04 August 2022, The Tablet

Pope recalls 'sweet, lyrical accents of grandmothers' at Lac St Anne

Pope recalls 'sweet, lyrical accents of grandmothers' at Lac St Anne

Si Pih Ko, also known by her English name as Trina Francois, becomes emotional as she sings Canada's national anthem in the Cree language during a visit by Pope Francis in Maskwacis, Alberta.
CNS photo/Adam Scotti, Prime Minister's Office handout via Reuters

On Tuesday 26 July, the second full day of his Canadian journey, Pope Francis joined 10,000 pilgrims marking the feast day of Sts Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary, at Lac Ste Anne in Alberta. 

He was following in the footsteps of the tens of thousands of devotees, notably Cree, Sioux, Métis, Blackfoot, Dene and others, who since the 1880s have made the journey sometimes in search of miraculous healing, and notably to honour the grandmother of Jesus.

Like most of the 40,000 pilgrims each year, Pope Francis paused at a statue of St Anne on his way to the water. He then stopped to pray facing East, then South, then West. Finally, facing North and overlooking the lake, he blessed the water, before being pushed in his wheelchair to the water’s edge.

Fr Cristino Bouvette, an Indigenous priest who helped plan the Pope’s liturgy, explained that Indigenous people face the four directions of the compass in prayer to remind themselves of “the omnipresence of the Creator and that all creation belongs to him”.

“Lord, as the people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee were not afraid to cry out to you with their needs, so we come to you this evening, with whatever pain we bear within us,” the Pope told the gathering. “All of us need the healing that comes from Jesus, the physician of souls and bodies.”

Then, in a refrain that echoed throughout his Canadian visit, he added: “We bring to you … the wounds of the violence suffered by our Indigenous brothers and sisters.” 

“In this blessed place, where harmony and peace reign, we present to you the disharmony of our experiences, the terrible effects of colonisation, the indelible pain of so many families, grandparents and children,” he continued. “Help us to be healed of our wounds.”

He prayed to Jesus for “the intercession of your mother and your grandmother” before addressing the grandmothers in the crowd, saying their hearts “are springs from which the living water of faith flowed”.

He told the pilgrims that it was from his own grandmother, Rosa, that he “first received the message of faith”. “Faith rarely comes from reading a book alone in a corner – instead, it spreads within families, transmitted in the language of mothers, in the sweetly lyrical accents of grandmothers,” Francis said.

“Part of the painful legacy we are now confronting stems from the fact that Indigenous grandmothers were prevented from passing on the faith in their own language and culture,” the Pope recalled.

Gathered on the lakeshore, “immersed in creation,” he said, “we can also sense another beat: the maternal heartbeat of the earth”.

“Just as the hearts of babies in the womb beat in harmony with those of their mothers, so in order to grow as people, we need to harmonise our own rhythms of life with those of creation, which gives us life.”







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