Regina Archdiocese representatives visiting Pope Francis hoping for listening, understanding

A small group of people representing the Archdiocese of Regina is hoping an upcoming trip to Rome to meet with Pope Francis about the church’s role in residential schools will give him a deeper understanding of Indigenous peoples’ experiences.

Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen is attending the meetings on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, who initiated and organized the visit with Pope Francis.

“It’s a great privilege to accompany the Indigenous delegation on this trip,” Archbishop Bolen said. “There has been a long standing request from Indigenous people that the church engage with the legacy of the past and our involvement in residential schools. We’ve been seeking to do that in several ways.”

For five years, Bolen has been involved in a bishops working group on Indigenous relations. He said the idea for this trip initially came up years ago, but was delayed because of the pandemic.

“I think [the trip] is important to me because it’s important to the Indigenous people that I have the privilege of knowing and walking with, including many survivors for whom it would be exceedingly important for Pope Francis to acknowledge their experience, to listen deeply and attentively to what they experienced and what they suffered, and to respond from his heart,” he said. “I’m profoundly hopeful it will allow us to take some steps forward.”

Bolen said he’s hopeful the meetings act as the seed for good things to come after they conclude.

“Apologies aren’t an end point. Apologies are a starting point,” he said.

“What I hope for is a very positive experience. An experience of being heard, welcomed and responded to. Something that gives a new confidence that the Catholic Church really does want to acknowledge mistakes of the past, really does want to walk with Indigenous people today, wants to listen to survivors and wants to engage with them in new projects and initiatives that can help us move forward in a good way.”

In addition to the bishops working group, primary delegates will take part in three private meetings with the pope. They were chosen in consultation with three national organizations: the Assembly of First Nations, Metis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

Secondary delegates will be present at a larger gathering with the Pope at the end of the trip, as well as various tours and events scheduled to take place in between meetings with the Pope.

The Archdiocese of Regina has invited two secondary delegates to join the trip: Joanna Landry and Susan Beaudin. Both women are actively involved in truth and reconciliation work in and around the city to help bridge the gap between Indigenous communities and the Catholic Church.

Landry, who is the superintendent for Regina Catholic Schools, has been working closely with the Archdiocese of Regina for more than five years and has been an educator for 26 years.

“I want to move people forward,” Landry said. “The history, particularly the history around residential schools, the effects of all of that and how it impacts kids in the education system from trauma to mental health.”

Landry, whose mother is a Marieval Indian Residential School survivor and father attended the Metis Day School, said she’s felt the intergenerational effects of the schools through a loss of culture and language.

She’s hoping to have an opportunity to share a small part of her story with the Pope. She said it’s an honour to be taking part in the trip.

“I never thought it would be a reality for me to be part of this. This is going to be a day in history,” she said.

Landry said she would like the Pope to finish the meetings with a better understanding of the lived experience of Indigenous people.

“I think it’s important that people learn first hand and share those stories in a face-to-face conversation,” she said. “I’m hoping that the Pope will understand how important it is about moving forward and that this is being seen as a way to walk together and to really learn from each other of what the impacts were of residential school.”

She’s also hoping it acts as a healing experience for other Indigenous people who will share their own stories.

She said although it’s always been important for this meeting to happen, the discovery of so many unmarked graves in Canada over the past several months has really highlighted the reasoning.

“I think the discovery of the unmarked graves and those children really has opened the eyes of many,” she said.

“I think it’s really important that people understand that there’s been a lot that has gone on and hopefully that was some of the push to really see the validity or the importance of why we need to gather and have these conversations with the Pope.”

Southern Saskatchewan will be also represented by primary delegates attending the meetings, including Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, who was the chief of Okanese First Nation for nearly 40 years before retiring. She was one of 13 selected by the Assembly of First Nations to be a primary delegate.

Metis National Council has selected Louise Simard of Regina to be one of its delegates.

The events with the Pope will run from Dec. 17-20.