After Pope Francis issued an apology to representatives of Indigenous Peoples of the First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit gathered in Maskwacis Park, near Edmonton. This evening July 25, 2022, he will visit Canada’s only Indigenous church and its parishioners.
Newsroom (25/07/2022 7:49 PM Gaudium Press) On October 27, 1991, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil declared Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, Edmonton’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit parish. It is the only designated Indigenous Church in all of Canada.
The evening’s gathering with the Holy Father is 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 travelled from Tomahawk AB, Cold Lake AB, Saddle Lake AB, Fort Resolution NWT, Sandy Bay SK, Pelican Arrows, SK, and Winnipeg MB.
Before the Holy Father arrived, there was Indigenous music and time spent in prayer for those gathered, along with a traditional gesture known as a smudge ceremony. The smudge is meant to be a source of purification and renewal. An elder carried out the smudging ceremony for those present and the building itself as a way of preparing to receive the Holy Father.
The Holy Father arrived via the side entrance of the church to the beating of drums. There was a group of eight drummers to one side of the vehicle as he exited and proceeded by accessible elevator to the main level of the church.
After entering the church, he was 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.
After the Holy Father was greeted by one of the Elders, who is a prominent member of the community (Fernie Marty), the Pope was assisted to his seat in the sanctuary of the church.
To be noted, the major decoration of the sanctuary is a teepee structure over the altar. The transcription over the top of the sanctuary reads: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In ancient Greek, a more literal translation of the text from John’s Gospel is translated as, “He put his tent up among us.” It is very significant that the Holy Father is seated beneath the structure.
The Holy Father was welcomed by the parish priest, who expressed gratitude that the Holy Father had chosen to visit their community. Following the words of welcome from Fr. Susai, two parishioners came forward, representing different aspects of the parish community. Mr. Bill Perdue (Parish Finance committee) and Ms. Candida Shepherd (both are of the Metis Nation) shared a brief reflection with Pope Francis about the church community.
Members of the parish Indigenous Music Ministry sang an honour song, “How Great Thou Art,” in English and Cree, as a way of demonstrating to newcomers or visitors that they are welcome and appreciated. This song is intended to thank the Holy Father for his presence at Sacred Heart.
Pope Francis then had a discourse with the parish community focussing on service and reconciliation, see the full text here. The Pope spoke in Spanish with captions on screens in the church during his speech.
The Holy Father entreated the assembly to pray the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) together with him and then gave all present his apostolic blessing.
Following this, four representative groups of the parish came forward for brief, private encounters with Pope Francis as they presented gifts to him (Four Indigenous paintings and prints) on behalf of the parish community while the Métis violinist played music, including a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace.
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 was 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 presented the Holy Father with a set of Indigenous-styled Stations of the Cross, as well as rawhide gloves (gauntlets) and moccasins.
The third gift was presented by a group of four First Nations and Métis Elders (Fernie Marty, Garry Gairdner, Theresea Yatsallie, Celina Loyer) who offered a decorated eagle feather, the eagle being a bird of great significance in Indigenous cultures. Finally, the second group of four Elders, both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous (Charles Stevenson, Yvonne Cardinal, Theresa Gagnon, Bob MeKeon) – emphasized the importance in the Indigenous culture of the number 4 as well as the hope for unity between peoples, offered 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 stopped briefly at a statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indigenous person to be canonized as a saint. This statue 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 her Catholic faith.
by Raju Hasmukh