FULL VIDEO - Pope Francis at 1st Peoples' Church says "Jesus reconciles us with one another on the cross, on the ‘tree of life’" and Reconciliation is a Gift
Pope Francis met with members of the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton, saying reconciliation is a gift of Christ to move forward in the wake of the pain caused by the Church’s role in the Canadian residential school system.
“This is the way forward: to look together to Christ, to love betrayed and crucified for our sake; to look to Christ, crucified in the many students of the residential schools.”
“It pains me to think that Catholics contributed to policies of assimilation and disenfranchisement that inculcated a sense of inferiority, robbing communities and individuals of their cultural and spiritual identity, severing their roots and fostering prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes; and that this was also done in the name of an educational system that was supposedly Christian.”
“Jesus reconciles us with one another on the cross, on the ‘tree of life’, as the ancient Christians loved to call it.”
“Nothing can ever take away the violation of dignity, the experience of evil, the betrayal of trust. Or take away our own shame, as believers. Yet we need to set out anew, and Jesus does not offer us nice words and good intentions, but the cross: the scandalous love that allows his hands and feet to be pierced by nails, and his head to be crowned with thorns.”“If we want to be reconciled with one another and with ourselves, to be reconciled with the past, with wrongs endured and memories wounded, with traumatic experiences that no human consolation can ever heal,” he said, “our eyes must be lifted to the crucified Jesus; peace must be attained at the altar of his cross.” (Source: VaticanNews)
Program at a glance:
- Words of welcome by the parish Priest
- Words of welcome by two parishioners
- Sharing of Indigenous culture through song
- Address of the Holy Father
- Recitation of the Our Father
- The Holy Father greets some faithful of the parish, and, while leaving, blesses the statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Short four minute video profile of parish: https://youtu.be/CtLiiAsKXSw?
(courtesy Archdiocese of Edmonton)
Parish Website: https://sacredpeoples.com/
Superintendent of Construction at Sacred Heart Church – Clark Builders – Jason Clooney
- The church became Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples on October 27, 1991, when Archbishop Joseph MacNeil declared it Edmonton’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit parish. It is the only designated Indigenous Church in all of Canada.
- This gathering with the Holy Father is intended to be an encounter with Indigenous members of the community, who may not have a particular connection to an Indigenous organization or group. Approximately 250 guests will gather inside the small church, most of whom are local parishioners or others representing different parts of this land. Guests include those that have traveled from Tomahawk AB, Cold Lake AB, Saddle Lake AB, Fort Resolution NWT, Sandy Bay SK, Pellican Arrows, SK, Winnipeg MB.
- The parish has been closed following an accidental fire on August 30, 2020. Over the last several years, the community has celebrated Mass or gathered together at a nearby school. Archbishop Richard Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton and General Co-ordinator of the Papal Visit to Canada, rededicated the church on July 17, 2022.
- The parish community is well known for its outreach and support programs including visits to the homebound, bag lunch ministry and numerous counselling programs.
- Members of the parish community may also be present outside the church (on the sidewalk in front of the church) when the Holy Father arrives and departs.
Commentary on Program at Sacred Heart
Before the Holy Father even arrives, it is important to note the programming that will be taking place inside of the Church as part of the preparation for his arrival. There will be Indigenous music and time spent in prayer for those gathered along with a traditional gesture known as celebrating a smudge.
This smudge has significance in this church especially. The church has recently been completely renovated, the result of an accidental fire. The fire was the result of improper disposal of a smudge pot, used for the traditional burning of sacred medicines. Consequently, the fire caused so much smoke damage inside the church that the entire building needed to be gutted. Some have spoken of the fire as being almost like an entire smudge of the whole building. The smudge is meant to be a source of purification and renewal.
Out of this great tragedy came a powerful opportunity to rebuild and renew. And now, before the arrival of the pope, an elder will carry out the smudging ceremony for those present and the building itself as a way of preparing to receive the Holy Father.
The Holy Father is expected to arrive at the side entrance of the church to the beating of drums. There will be a group of eight drummers to one side of the vehicle as he exits and proceeds by accessible elevator to the main level of the church.
After entering the church, he will be greeted by Fr. Susai Jesu OMI, Pastor of Sacred Heart Church and the Associate Pastor, Fr. Mark Blum, OMI. The priests are part of the Order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which in the residential school legacy, is identified as the order who administered the most number of schools in the country. These priests acknowledge the past and have worked with the community on the healing and reconciliation journey for many years. Today at Sacred Heart they walk together, Indigenous and religious, with a mutual respect, mindful of the past but moving forward on a path of renewal, support and service.
After the Holy Father is greeted by one of the Elders who is a prominent member of the community (Fernie Marty), the Pope is assisted to his seat in the sanctuary of the church. It is significant to note that the major decoration of the sanctuary is a teepee structure over top of the altar. The transcription over the top of the sanctuary reads: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
In ancient Greek, there is reference to a much more literal translation of the text from John’s Gospel, being translated as, “He put his tent up among us.” Therefore, here in this traditional Indigenous dwelling, over top of the place that Catholics believe is the moment and location where Jesus truly becomes present again through the Eucharist: the word becoming flesh on the altar. So it is very significant that we would see the Holy Father seated beneath the structure.
The altar has been hand-crafted to symbolize a tree growing up from the ground. This is significant for two reasons: first, in the Christian tradition, the cross of Jesus is often referred to as the “tree of life” and it is on the altar that the sacrifice of Christ’s cross is represented. Secondly, in his address to the Indigenous delegation in Rome on April 1, 2022, the Holy Father used the image of a tree bearing good fruit on many diverse branches as a representation of the Indigenous Peoples.
The Holy Father will be briefly welcomed by the parish priest, expressing gratitude that the Holy Father has chosen to visit their community. On display in front of the beautifully handcrafted ambo (lectern), ordinarily used to proclaim scripture readings, there will be two displays: the first being a small sample of items that represent the outreach to the poor and needy of the neighborhood by the parish community; and secondly, a series of significant Indigenous items which will be presented as gifts to the Holy Father.
Following the words of welcome from Fr. Susai, two parishioners will come forward representing different aspects of the parish community. Mr. Bill Perdue and Ms. Candida Shepherd will share a brief reflection with Pope Francis and the community.
Both individuals have their own personal family connections to the Residential School legacy, but who also reflect the resilience and strength of Indigenous people in the broader community who have persevered and moved forward in their healing journey.
Members of the parish Indigenous Music Ministry will offer an honour song (the traditional hymn, “How Great Thou Art” in Cree), a way of demonstrating to someone new or visiting that they are welcome and appreciated. This song is intended to thank the Holy Father for his presence at Sacred Heart.
Following the greetings and music, the Holy Father will share his discourse with the parish community. (The Holy Father is expected to speak Spanish – captions will appear on screens in the church during his speech).
He will then invite those assembled to pray the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) together. Following this prayer, he will offer those assembled a blessing.
Indigenous music will begin again as four representative groups of the parish come forward for brief, private encounters with Pope Francis as they present gifts to him (Four Indigenous paintings and prints) on behalf of the parish community.
First a group of youth (Talia Tennant – 17, Owen Shepherd -17, Jordan Perdue – 15, Faustina Dogan - 15, Leala Dogan – 4) symbolic of the former residential school students will share elements of their culture with the Holy Father, represented by small works of art.
The next gift will be presented by a family of three generations together (Michael Stucky Betty Randhile, Tony Randhile, Scarlet Randhile – age 5, Teiyah Madeline Randhile – age 8), representative of a family intact and without separation through their generations. They will present the Holy Father with a set of Indigenous-styled Stations of the Cross, as well as rawhide gloves (gauntlets) and moccasins.
The third gift will be presented by a group of four First Nations and Métis Elders (Fernie Marty, Garry Gairdner, Theresea Yatsallie, Celina Loyer) who will offer a decorated eagle feather, the eagle being a bird of great significance in Indigenous cultures. Finally, a second group of four Elders, both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous (Charles Stevenson, Yvonne Cardinal, Theresa Gagnon, Bob MeKeon) – to emphasize the importance in Indigenous culture of the number 4 as well as the hope for unity between peoples, will offer the Holy Father a decorative blanket which is a gesture meant to symbolize their hope for him to experience warmth, comfort and their embrace of him.
Before departing the church, the Holy Father will stop briefly at a statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indigenous person to be canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition. This statue is of particular significance as it has been handcrafted along with traditional clothing made out of animal hide and decorated with beadwork, a testament to both St. Kateri’s Indigenous culture and Catholic faith.
|The Holy Father will then depart, escorted again by Indigenous music (Métis Fiddlers – Garry Lee, Christian Gibbs – age 15, Nizhoni Rowan – age 14, Kaydence Courtoreille – age 12, Talia McGilvery – age 11) as he departs with the papal motorcade and returns to his residence for the evening.|