Pope to indigenous peoples: forgiveness for colonialism, truth is not inculcated
Grief over abuses committed in residential schools but also steps for reconciliation in Francis' meeting in Canada with First Nations, Inuit and Metis: "Look at Christ crucified in your children and together with him learn to walk together".
Edmonton (AsiaNews) - "many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry. I ask forgiveness," appealed Pope Francis yesterday in his meeting with the First Nations, the Inuit and the Metis on the second day of his apostolic journey to Canada. His words were ronounced in the Maskwacis reserve, after a silent pause at the cemetery with the graves of the children who were victims of violence and abuse in the residential schools system for the assimilation of indigenous peoples, a system desired by the local authorities to the detriment of the indigenous peoples and in which the Church collaborated through its educational institutions.
The Pope emphasised the importance of remembering this tragedy, which was also repeated elsewhere. When the European settlers arrived in these lands," he said, "there was a great opportunity to bring about a fruitful encounter between cultures, traditions and forms of spirituality. Yet for the most part that did not happen. Again, I think back on the stories you told: how the policies of assimilation ended up systematically marginalizing the indigenous peoples; how also through the system of residential schools your languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed; how children suffered physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse; how they were taken away from their homes at a young age, and how that indelibly affected relationships between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren."
"Although Christian charity was not absent, and there were many outstanding instances of devotion and care for children, the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic. What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ".
But asking forgiveness for the past is only the first step in moving beyond this wound. We need to look at how to promote true reconciliation, overcoming the root of the evil that led to those contradictions in the Church. And it is the horizon that the pope indicated in the afternoon when he met again with representatives of the indigenous peoples in the Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton - the church of the altar under the tepee, the tent of the natives, where it is precisely the true acceptance of their cultures that has become the road to a new encounter.
"I imagine the fatigue, in those who have suffered tremendously because of men and women who had to give witness to Christian life, to see any prospect of reconciliation," Francis said frankly. "Nothing can erase the dignity violated, the evil suffered, the trust betrayed. Nor must the shame of us believers ever be erased. But it is necessary to start again, and Jesus does not propose words and good intentions, but the cross, that scandalous love that allows itself to be pierced feet and wrists by nails and pierced head with thorns".
It is precisely this, for the pope, the direction to follow: 'to look together at Christ, the love betrayed and crucified for us; to look at Jesus, crucified in so many residential school pupils. If we want to be reconciled among ourselves and within ourselves, reconciled with the past, with the wrongs suffered and the wounded memory, with traumatic events that no human consolation can heal, our gaze must be raised to Jesus crucified, peace must be drawn from his altar"
But the Pontiff also wanted to give a precise name to the evil that has led men of the Church to commit such serious abuses: he indicated it in the temptation of "worldliness" of those who aim to "impose their own cultural model". "This attitude is hard to die, even from the religious point of view," he commented. "In fact, it would seem more convenient to inculcate God in people, instead of allowing people to approach God. But it never works, because the Lord does not act this way: he does not force, he does not suffocate and he does not oppress; instead, he always loves, frees and leaves free. He does not support with his Spirit those who subject others, those who confuse the Gospel of reconciliation with proselytism. For one cannot proclaim God in a way that is contrary to God'.
And it is precisely to show another way of being together that is the Church's real task. "It is the place where we stop thinking of ourselves as individuals," he said, "to recognise ourselves as brothers by looking into each other's eyes, welcoming each other's histories and culture, letting the mysticism of togetherness, so pleasing to the Holy Spirit, favour the healing of wounded memories. This is the way: not deciding for others, not pigeon-holing everyone within pre-established schemes, but putting oneself before the Crucified One and before one's brother to learn to walk together".
"Jesus, crucified and risen, who dwells in this people of yours who wish to shine through our communities and our cultures," the Pope concluded with an invocation, "take us by the hand and, even in the deserts of history, guide our steps on the path of reconciliation".