Are we supposed to live in shame for what we have done wrong, or is it possible to move on? And if it is possible to move past our errors, how do we do it? I ask because as a Catholic I am ashamed of what we did to the Indigenous children in residential schools. And as a Canadian I am ashamed of the same thing. We were so wrong. How did we not know that?
Somehow, we came to the erroneous conclusion that being Indigenous was inferior. A bit like every nation that has ever conquered another nation – we have the best culture, so you have to become like us.
I look at my grandchildren, and I cannot begin to imagine how I would feel if they were taken from their parents because the government considered that they could do a better job of raising them. Yet this is what happened in family after family across Canada, and we allowed it. I am ashamed. How do I move on?
I have to confess I do not understand why the Pope is not quickly taking responsibility for the role that the Catholic Church played in these atrocities. Everything I have read about Pope Francis has indicated that he is a kind man, who cares about everyone, Catholic or otherwise. Recent news tells how he is permitting a cardinal, a personal friend, to face prosecution over possible embezzlement. He is not protecting his friend, because he wants to stop the misuse of funds in the Vatican. He has shown love for the underdogs in other situations, and I personally think he will do the right thing here too – I just wish he would move a bit faster.
Many are angry, and their response in some cases is to burn down Catholic churches. The large number of indigenous people in these churches have to suffer twice – once because of the atrocities of residential schools and now also because their churches are being burned to the ground. It is a way to express anger, but I do not personally see how it is helpful to anyone.
Our Prime Minister seems to be good at apologising, but very slow at doing anything constructive about the situation. I recall a promise he made to bring drinking water to indigenous communities, but that does not seem to have happened. With so many of us feeling the pain of the indigenous people this seems like an excellent time to ask our leaders to follow through on these important promises. Saying sorry may be a start, but that is all it is. We need to see some changes.
There have been requests to avoid attending Mass this weekend. Where I live only fifteen percent are permitted in the church anyway, and many will stay away because they do not yet feel safe to attend because of the ongoing spread of Covid. It is not a positive request, I believe. Perhaps something better might be to ask for every Catholic Church to offer a tithe, ten percent, of their income, to help the indigenous communities provide better facilities for their people. I would happily contribute to a collection to help demonstrate my desire to put things right.
In the Bible we read that God tells his people that it is up to him to provide vengeance. We don’t want to leave it to him though. We often think that God is too slow at paying people back what they deserve, particularly those people who have hurt us. I think the idea is not simply that God will do the punishing, but that we shouldn’t. There have been so many wars fought because of past atrocities.
Many years ago, I read about an indigenous community who dealt very differently with one of their members who did something unacceptable. They would surround that person and remind him of all the good that he had done. The purpose was to help the individual see that doing the right thing was to be preferred to doing the wrong thing. In our prison system it used to be a priority to help people change. Today many are more interested in seeing the guilty person punished rather than coming to see the error of their ways.
Instead of trying to punish the Catholic Church for its crimes, can we not find some ways for her to make restitution? Instead of expressing our anger and our thirst for punishment towards the Canadian government, cannot they, cannot we the Canadian people, find a way to demonstrate that we are sorry, we were wrong, and we want to change. How do we do that?