If the Pope’s visit was the first step, what comes next for the Catholic Church?

In the gold-crested white room of the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral, Pope Francis sits before church leaders. He leafs through his papers, reciting a homily that is both gentle and authoritative. The leader of the Catholic Church tells Canadian bishops, priests and seminarians that indigenous peoples who practice their cultures, languages ​​and spiritualities have the face of God within them.

This July 28 moment was remarkable for Niigaan Sinclair, an Anishnaabe scholar and columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.

“He was basically saying our cultures had value,” Sinclair said. Canadian National Observer.

“This is a remarkable change in over 500 years of Catholic doctrine.”

Niigaan Sinclair wants action from the Catholic Church or else the papal visit will be nothing more than a publicity stunt, he says. Photo courtesy of Niigaan Sinclair

Yet despite this breakthrough, Sinclair was frustrated with the papal visit. There were elements of hope, but he says he had to look for them.

For example, some Indigenous peoples have been upset about the missed opportunities for the Catholic Church to engage with Indigenous cultures during the papal visit, particularly during the Pope’s outdoor mass in Edmonton and his visit to Lac Ste. Anne.

“The Catholic Church is like an aircraft carrier – you can only move it an inch. And when you move it an inch, you get excited about it, but it’s still only an inch” , says Sinclair.

Sinclair speaks of a cautious optimism for change within an organization known for its ancient traditions and, at times, slowness to act. For example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action called for the pope to apologize within a year – it took seven.

Still, with the papal visit organized, orchestrated and executed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), there’s room to give some credit where it’s due, Sinclair says.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops told the Canadian National Observer that it was working with the Vatican to prepare a statement on the Doctrine of Discovery. Learn more below. #Papal Visit #RescindTheDoctrine

But that does not mean that the responsibility should cease.

“Let’s hope they do more than a PR stunt.”

CCCB said Canadian National Observer he heard the call of survivors and families to heal the trauma suffered by Indigenous peoples from residential schools, including calls for the release of related documents and records, the return of Indigenous artifacts held in the Vatican, the affirmation of the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples and financial support for initiatives that advance healing and reconciliation.

The organization says it plans to update its reconciliation action plan at the conference’s national plenary this fall.

Many indigenous peoples also explicitly asked the Catholic Church to name and renounce the Doctrine of Discovery, a 15th-century religious document, established by papal bulls, which gave explorers papal legitimacy to claim and colonize the lands they had “discovered”.

On July 28, before the pope’s homily at a mass held at the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica in Quebec City, two Cree activists echoed this call by placing a banner at the mass that read “Abrogate the Doctrine”.

The Vatican and the CCCB are working on a new church statement regarding the Doctrine of Discovery, the CCCB says. Work began following the visit of an indigenous delegation to Rome earlier this year.

“It is important to note that the bishops of Canada continue to reject and resist ideas associated with the Doctrine of Discovery in the strongest possible way,” the CCCB said. Canadian National Observer.

The CCCB is also fully committed to sharing church records with survivors and communities, including providing documentation that will help commemorate those buried in unmarked graves, the Ottawa-based organization said.

CBAC recognizes that Indigenous leaders have identified timely access to information issues and says the organization is working to better understand these concerns and provide appropriate support.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action outline the next steps for the Church, and the bishops say they are working on it.

Call 59 aims to educate church leaders, including clergy and parishioners, about Indigenous cultures and spirituality. At his Plenary Assembly 2021Canadian bishops have made a national commitment to educate Canadian Catholics and leaders about Indigenous cultures and spirituality, the CCCB said.

Appeal 60 outlines funding for Indigenous-run healing and cultural centers. The CCCB highlighted the $30 million pledged last September for the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund created by the Canadian bishops. The Catholic Church previously agreed to raise $25 million for survivors through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, but that campaign ultimately raised less than $4 million.

The CCCB’s current fund is on track to meet its fundraising goals, with $4.6 million already raised to support Indigenous healing and reconciliation initiatives in Canada, according to the CCCB.

But more than $25 million is still needed.

“The proof will be in the actions,” says Sinclair. “Will the conference pay the $30 million they owe? Will they return the documents? Will they rally the Vatican to return the sacred objects? Will they continue to pressure the Vatican to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery?

“Those are the really big questions.”

Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / National Observer of Canada

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