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Gerry Chidiac: Pope's visit and apology is a small miracle

When I first read Call to Action #58 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, I thought it was an unrealistic pipe dream.  It called upon the Pope to apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in the abuse endured by Indigenous children at church-run residential schools, and for the Pope to deliver this apology in Canada.
pope francis indigenous cemetary
Pope Francis prays at a gravesite at the Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery in Maskwacis, Alta., during his papal visit across Canada on Monday, July 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Self-development specialist Brian Tracy says, “People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could even imagine.”

When I first read Call to Action #58 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, I thought it was an unrealistic pipe dream.  It called upon the Pope to apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in the abuse endured by Indigenous children at church-run residential schools, and for the Pope to deliver this apology in Canada.

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is one of the most opaque and slow-moving boys’ clubs in the world.  How could our Indigenous leaders expect them to listen?  Yet, armed with only a righteous cause, through persistent determination they managed to get Pope Francis to come to Canada.  Francis traveled here, despite his deteriorating health, and he apologized, at least somewhat.

Whether or not that apology should be accepted is a question that can only be answered by those of whom he is asking forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a very personal decision and telling a person they need to forgive does a further injustice to a person who has already been harmed.  To some, the pope’s apology meant a great deal, for others it didn’t go nearly far enough. 

Given the depth of the wounds, a Catholic Church apology needs to go quite far.  The world was watching Pope Francis’s visit to Canada and people were listening to every word he said because the mistakes of his church have been compounding for centuries.  Several papal decrees (ironically such a papal decree is called a “bull”, though it technically has nothing to do with the current slang term) from the 15th century stated that Europeans could enslave people and that they could take their lands away from them.  We often refer to these as the Papal Bulls of Discovery or the Doctrine of Discovery.  They were used as justification for colonization and the slave trade. 

In essence, these bulls resulted in a sick distortion of the message of Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, who said to “spread the Good News to all the world.”  What he meant was to celebrate the infinite goodness in each child of God as well as the common humanity of all people.  He was telling us to love each other.  Instead, we ended up committing genocide, with victims all over the world, including the biological family members of Jesus himself.

What does all this mean to Canadians, to Christians, and particularly to Catholics?  The message is very clear.  Just as Pope Francis did, we need to embrace the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and put them into practice in our daily lives.  This cannot be overstated.  We all need to work together to begin to heal the deep wounds of colonialism in Canada and around the world.  In fact, Catholics in other countries would be remiss if they too did not follow the Pope’s example and embrace reconciliation toward the victims of the Doctrine of Discovery.

In addition, we all need to continue to pressure Pope Francis and the Catholic hierarchy to in some way rescind the Papal Bulls of Discovery.  This will have global implications, not only for the Catholic Church, but for every religious, political, and economic institution that was guilty of any of the innumerable examples of cruelty and genocide that resulted and that continue to plague our world.  We cannot turn back the clock, but we can address what is wrong and make it right.

Finally, enough cannot be said about the Indigenous peoples of Canada.  They set a seemingly unattainable goal, and they found a way to make it happen.  Their efforts have not only helped to address the abuses their communities suffered, but they have also moved us all forward toward healing our broken world.

Gerry Chidiac is a Prince George writer.