04 August 2022, The Tablet

View from Guelph

View from Guelph

A pope came to Canada. Again. John Paul II alighted on Canadian shores three times – 1984, 1987, and 2002 – but no visit has been as electrifying, polarising and turbulent as Pope Francis’ recent pastoral “pilgrimage of penance”.

Swept up in a whirligig of conflicting narratives, political point-scoring, failed expectations, a soured Canadian public, anxious Catholics, and far from neutral nationwide media coverage, it seems a mite outrageous to say that it was a success, but it was precisely that.

In honouring his pledge in Rome last spring to the Indigenous representatives that had travelled to ask him for an apology for the dreadful legacy of Church-administered residential schools for Indigenous children, Francis knew this was going to be a journey of pain. But, in spite of his physical impairment, he was resolved to come, offer apology, connect with Indigenous communities on their land, and offer a way forward to meaningful and credible truth and reconciliation.

The situation is fraught. The aftershocks of the residential school system – intact for over a century – have grown in intensity; the Catholic Church, which ran 60 per cent of the schools on behalf of the federal government, has faced an onslaught of criticism regarding its failed stewardship; and the “discovery” of some 200 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which had been under the aegis of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate unleashed a torrent of rage.

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