From the Vatican to Canada, Walking Together on the Road to Reconciliation

April 27 2022

After more than two years of preparation, Indigenous delegations from across the country finally gathered at the Vatican from March 28 to April 1 to participate in various sharing sessions with the hope of moving forward on their journey of reconciliation, and therefore, intrinsically, healing.

“The Catholic Bishops of Canada began this process almost three years ago as an evolving conversation to better understand how to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action,” said Archbishop Albert LeGatt of St. Boniface. “The recent discovery of the graves near residential schools has moved the work of reflection forward. The Holy Father wanted to proceed with these meetings with Indigenous survivors, elders, and knowledge keepers, so I chose to go to Rome so that I could pray for the success of the event and immerse myself fully in this moment.”

From left to right: Archbishop LeGatt, Lisa Raven and Father Paradis.

Joining the Archbishop of St. Boniface were Oblate Father François Paradis, a knowledge keeper and trainer who has worked with Returning to Spirit for many years, and Lisa Raven, the director of Returning to Spirit, who is originally from the Hollow Water First Nation in Manitoba. “I’ve had a relationship with Father François and Lisa for years and I appreciate their outlook, their attitude, their ability to open doors and begin dialogues, their perspective, their listening and their openness,” says Archbishop LeGatt. “It was important to make this journey together in our hearts, and I am touched by this constant recommitment to each other, for each other.”

Lisa Raven’s path to reconciliation has been underway for years. For some time, she’s been offering herself, along with the Catholic Church, a new way of looking at reconciliation. “Reconciliation is more of a journey that is unfolding with relationships formed along the way. For many years, I was in dislike and avoiding opening myself up to the Oblates. I was not in a place of considering reconciliation. I was still focused on blame. My journey had to start with connecting with the Oblates, which I did alongside Father François. We sweat together, we participate in ceremonies together, we work together.”

Welcomed in Rome at the Oblate General House, Lisa Raven, Father François Paradis and Archbishop LeGatt were able to meet and share meals, reflections, ceremonies, and prayers together. “Never in my life would I have thought I’d feel welcomed in the Oblates’ house,” says Lisa Raven. “Before I arrived, I was scared that I would be triggered while entering their house in Rome, but it wasn’t the case at all. They were very welcoming, curious, asked lots of genuine questions and we had many profound discussions. François and I took our pipe and prayed as the conversations unfolded. That was a big healing step for me; doing that in the Oblates’ house in Rome was simply amazing.”

Being able to be on the receiving end of being heard, welcomed, appreciated for who they are was an experience that Lisa’s ancestors never got the chance to live. “For me, it was an act of reconciliation and therefore of healing. I’m hoping it’s healing for the Oblates, too. This reconciliation journey is a two-sided one: Indigenous people and the Church must do this together as there is intergenerational trauma on both sides. For religious people, they are often stepping into a place of acceptance and grieving for some past situations that they have nothing to do with. Some of their ancestors taught at residential schools and they now carry on their shoulders what they did. They are trying to heal on behalf of everyone. Witnessing, in the past few years, how our Canadian bishops are taking steps towards reconciliation, has been huge. And to me, it’s very sincere and heartfelt. It gives me hope for our journey in Canada.”

Father Paradis and Lisa Raven in ceremony while visiting Rome.

For Archbishop LeGatt, the depth of the week spent at the Vatican lies in the Holy Father’s deep desire to listen, to be attentive to sharing, and to what is in the hearts of the people. The apology came after hour-long meetings with 31 members of the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. “Pope Francis’ request for forgiveness is a response to what he has heard,” said Archbishop LeGatt. “It is not an apology made because it had to be made, but what his heart told him to do and to express sincerely as a result of the meetings he had attended. Then, coming to Canada and asking for forgiveness here was a logical step that followed and that he wanted to do. He did his part in Rome, he will come to Canada, but after that it is up to each diocese, each church to do their part; to inform themselves, to listen, to want to meet, to create relationships that will lead to reconciliation.”

Lisa Raven goes on to say that “an apology is important, and lots of people needed to hear that to move forward. For others, it didn’t matter at all, and for people like me, in the middle, it’s the sessions that were held that was more important. It was set up in a way that we were able to say what we needed to say, and the Pope was actively listening. Being heard and believed was the important step and is one aspect of reconciliation. Considering where the pope is at in his journey, I think he was genuine.”

“In Rome, a shift in thinking occurred with the realization that we are all in this together now. The idea of reconciliation is individual and means different things to each of us. Some want to move forward, some not really, and that’s on both sides. There are no perfects words. Some people picked the apology apart and found a way to make it wrong, but there are more and more people wanting it to unfold in a different way and have the apology be an act of reconciliation. Reconciliation is not linear. Reconciliation is a moment, and we need to keep building on moments where we feel reconciled. The goal post keeps moving and it is a journey meant to unfold.”


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