EDMONTON — Reactions were mixed Tuesday at the pope’s public mass at the Edmonton football stadium, where the pontiff focused his message on grandparents and spoke briefly about Indigenous peoples while bishops offered prayers in Latin.
“This is a missed opportunity for a Mass to celebrate Indigenous cultural traditions and practices,” said Daryold Corbiere Winkler, an Ottawa priest who is Anishinaabe.
“They did the opposite. They celebrated (Eurocentric) and anachronistic forms of prayer.”
Corbiere Winkler said he was upbeat when the mass began with native drumming, as the popemobile carried Francis through Commonwealth Stadium. The pope blessed and kissed the babies and young children handed over to him and cheers echoed from the stands with thousands of people.
Corbiere Winkler said his hopes were dashed as the service took a traditional turn. He was devastated when the Eucharistic prayer was said in Latin, given that residential school survivors were there.
“It’s the language they would have heard at boarding school,” he said. “A lot of survivors, it’s the mass they heard when they were children.”
Angel Dermit said the rigid mass reminded him of the religious ceremonies of his childhood at the Lower Post boarding school in British Columbia.
“When I heard the service, it’s very different from how I believe in God and how I believe in Jesus,” she said.
Several aboriginal people participated in the program. However, Francis did not speak much about Indigenous peoples, cultures or traditions during the event, although he issued an apology for abuses at Catholic boarding schools the day before.
The pope focused his homily, the comments after the Bible readings, on the importance of grandparents and the elderly.
Towards the end, Francis prayed for “a future in which the history of violence and marginalization suffered by our Indigenous brothers and sisters will never be repeated.”
“Little and big, grandparents and grandchildren, all together. Let’s move forward together, and together, let’s dream.”
About 65,000 free tickets were available for the mass but many rows of seats were empty, especially on the upper decks. Organizers estimated that there were around 50,000 people in attendance. Hats and clothing commemorating the papal visit were sold near an entrance for between $10 and $45.
During the blessing of the Eucharist, a person shouted “abrogate the doctrine of discovery” – papal documents used in colonization.
Towards the end of the Mass, Archbishop of Edmonton Richard Smith thanked Francis for having kept his promise “to come to Canada and thus demonstrate your closeness to all of us, in particular to the First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit of this land”.
Rose-Marie Blair-Isberg came from the Yukon to attend. The White River First Nation residential school survivor, who is Roman Catholic, said he felt the church was “selling out” during mass.
Edith Didzena held up a photo of her mother, Regina Etthidzine, as she sat in the stadium with her children. Didzena, who lives in Bushe River on Dene Tha’ First Nation in Alberta, said her mother went to residential school but died before she could hear the pope’s apology.
Acknowledging past wrongdoings doesn’t erase what happened, Didzena said, but it does help start healing.
On Monday, during a visit to the community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, the Pope apologized to residential school survivors and their families for the role played by members of the Church in the cultural destruction and destruction forced assimilation of indigenous peoples.
Patty Crofton, a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, said she didn’t sleep well after hearing the apology because it brought back difficult memories. She went to day school and her parents went to boarding schools.
“I’m on my own healing journey from all of this,” she said before mass.
Organizers said it was appropriate not to hold a Mass until the second full day of the papal visit because Francis wanted to demonstrate that his priority was first to address the legacy of residential schools on Indigenous lands.
Later in the day, Francis was to go to Lac Ste. Anne, northwest of Edmonton, to participate in the community’s annual pilgrimage, which regularly welcomes tens of thousands of Aboriginal participants.
Métis Nation of Alberta President Audrey Poitras said she was honored to welcome Francis to the site, which is considered sacred. But, Poitras said, words and apologies are not enough.
“We hope that by feeling the spirit of the Métis, so deeply connected to a place so sacred to the church, it will lead to real action and accountability, so that we, as a people, can focus on healing,” she said in a statement. .
Later in the week, Francis will travel to Quebec for meetings with Aboriginal peoples and to animate another mass. He must also go to Iqaluit.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their loved ones suffering from trauma invoked by the memory of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 26, 2022.
— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg