Papal Mass at Commonwealth Stadium Edmonton on the Feasts of Sts. Anne and Joachim

Pope Francis’s first action in Canada was not to gather with the faithful for Mass but to apologize at Maskwacis to the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples on their traditional territories. Today July 26, 2022, he celebrates his first Mass in Canada at Commonwealth Stadium on the Feast of St Anne and St Joachim.

Newsroom (26/07/2022 2:08 PM Gaudium Press) July 26 is the Feast of St. Anne and St. Joachim, grandmother and grandfather of Jesus. They are highly revered, not only by Catholics but also by many Indigenous Christians, where Elders are so widely respected. IN Canada, numerous pilgrimages are related to St. Anne, including Lac Ste. Anne and Ste. Anne de Beaupré. Commonwealth Stadium is Edmonton’s largest venue, and about 65,000 people were in attendance for the papal Mass.

The Pope arrived by the popemobile and proceeded from Clarke Field to Commonwealth Stadium accompanied by the familiar sound of Indigenous drumming from a group of Dene drummers from Northern Alberta. The Pope stopped the entourage at various points to kiss the forehead of little children, much to the crowd’s elation.

The Procession consisting of altar servers leads the way for the Bishops. Together they entered the sanctuary and prepared the altar for the celebration of the Mass. Due to his mobility constraints, Pope Francis could not join the Procession but appeared from behind the sanctuary with the assistance of his security, who helped him to his seat from where he presided over the Holy Mass.

The Readings from Scripture (Sirach 44, 1. 8. 10-15, Psalm 131, Matthew 13, 16-17) were specifically chosen to highlight the role of the Grandparents in the life of Christ. This is something very dear to the Pontificate of Pope Francis, namely his love and concern for the elderly and grandparents, further demonstrated by his institution of the World Day of Prayer for Grandparents and the Elderly, celebrated annually last Sunday.

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As an aside, In Indigenous culture, the grandmother features very prominently in their communities, and so the Holy Father, as a way of indicating his closeness to indigenous peoples, honoured St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, precisely because of her role and identity.

The First Reading was proclaimed by an Indigenous woman from the Enoch community, Pam Kootnay, and a local non-Indigenous cantor who sang the Psalm.

There were four deacons in the sanctuary gathered around the Pope, three of whom are also of Indigenous heritage. One is a Deacon from the Archdiocese of Vancouver, British Columbia, and a member of the Squamish People, Deacon Rennie Nahanee. Seated on the other side of the Pope is Deacon Harry Lafond, a Cree man of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. The man who carried the book of the Gospel to the ambo and proclaimed the Gospel, Deacon Gilbert Pitawanakwat, is an Ojibwe man from Manitoulin Island in the Diocese of Sault St. Marie, Ontario. Following the proclamation of the Gospel, Pope Francis preached a sermon in Spanish and repeated it in English by one of the co-celebrants 

The Holy Father’s homily focused upon the significance and role of grandparents and the elderly in ensuring and guaranteeing the future of the next generation.

The Prayers of the Faithful were offered by four women who are all of Indigenous heritage and hail from different parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Ms. Hazel Vickland, from Northern Alberta; Ms. Shirley Pruden from central Alberta; Ms. Mary Laboucan from a northern Métis settlement and Ms. Joanna Landry from the Regina area.

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The Offertory procession consisted of a group of people as follows. First in the Procession is the family of Lars and Jocelyn DuckChief from the Siksika Nation east of Calgary, along with their adult son Clarke. Clarke was recently Baptized after having made an adult decision to seek baptism himself, mainly because of the growing faith of his parents. His father, Lars, is himself now entering into preparations in the Diocese of Calgary to become a Permanent Deacon.

Second, a small delegation of Indigenous Elders, women from southern Alberta who represent the peoples of the Pikanii Blood Tribe and the Dene people of TsuuT’ina Nation. They were led by Regena Crowchild, currently serving as the Acting Chief of TsuuT’ina on behalf of Chief Roy Whitney. Accompanying her was Frances LittleLight, who is originally also from a reserve in southern Alberta, and Vera Potts of Pikanii.

Next was the Federal Member of Parliament, Frank Caputo, with his daughter Kateri Tekakwitha. They have a deep respect for Indigenous culture, and the example of this Indigenous Saint inspired them to bestow her name upon their daughter.

Last was Lea-Ann Maier with her daughter, Wynn Jamie Maier-Crowder, and two students, brother and sister Tiana Teresa and Zander Raymond Dragon. All of them are current or recent graduates of the Braided Journeys Program, for which Lea-Ann is an Instructor. This program seeks to ensure education for Indigenous students to help see them through to graduation while remaining enriched by education in their Indigenous cultures and traditions.

Due to the inability of Pope Francis to remain standing that long at the altar, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton assisted him by presiding over the rites at the altar, with the Holy Father fully participating while seated. The Archbishop was assisted by the fourth deacon, who is not of Indigenous heritage. Deacon Santiago Torres is training for the priesthood for service in the neighbouring Diocese of Calgary and is in his final year of training at the seminary in Edmonton. He is an immigrant to Canada, originally from Colombia.

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The consecration was in Latin with bells and incense to convey the significance that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Holy Eucharist was distributed to the nearly 70,000 faithful Catholics gathered. 

After the conclusion of the Eucharist, the Pope imparted his final blessing over all of the Faithful gathered there. Words of thanks from His Grace, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, greeted the Holy Father on behalf of the Faithful, not only of his Archdiocese but from all over, gathered to celebrate this Mass.

After imparting his final blessing and dismissal of the Faithful, the choir sang a soulful rendition of Immaculate Mary. The Holy Father then venerated the statue of the Virgin Mary. This particular image is known as ‘Our Lady of the Cape.’ The devotion to her originated in Quebec in a shrine in Trois-Rivières. Canada was once consecrated to her by an Assembly of all of the country’s Bishops 75 years ago.

This statue, which has been refurbished for this occasion, originates in the Parish Church of the TsuuT’ina Nation. The people of that community have generously donated the statue to be used for the Papal Mass. It will be returned to their Parish as an enduring legacy of the visit of Pope Francis to the province of Alberta.

By Raju Hasmukh

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