Pope: Indigenous Peoples and grandmothers are a precious treasure of the Church

Following the Mass in the Commonwealth Stadium of Edmonton, on Tuesday, Pope Francis celebrates a Liturgy of the Word at Lac Ste. Anne, one of the most sacred sites for Indigenous peoples of North America, long known as a place of healing. In his homily he says that Indigenous Peoples and grandparents are a precious treasure of the Church.

Thousands of pilgrims welcomed Pope Francis as he joined their annual pilgrimage to the sacred shores of Lac Ste. Anne, on Tuesday afternoon, local time. The lake called Wakamne (“Lake of God”) by the Nakota Sioux and “Lake of the Spirit” by the Cree people, is renowned for its healing waters and for its spiritual significance both to Catholics and Indigenous Peoples in Canada and Northwestern United States.

It was named after St. Anne, the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus, by a Quebecois Catholic missionary, who launched the pilgrimage in the late 19th century, celebrating the week of her Feast Day, on 26 July.

After blessing the water of the lake and the faithful present with it, Pope Francis presided over a Liturgy of the Word. The Holy Father started his homily, noting that the beating of drums introducing the celebration “seems to echo the beating of the hearts” of the many pilgrims who for generations have walked together to reach this “lake of God”, seeking healing from its waters.

God chose the richly diverse context of this peripheral area where various peoples converged, to announce to the world his “revolutionary” message of fraternity. That message, the Pope said, resounds today in the sound of drums spanning the centuries and uniting different peoples. “It reminds us that fraternity is genuine if it unites those who are far apart, that the message of unity that heaven sends down to earth does not fear differences, but invites us to fellowship, in order to start afresh together, because we are all pilgrims on a journey.

The role of grandmothers in the healing process

Pope Francis, again, emphasized the role of mothers and grandmothers in the Indigenous communities also in helping to heal those wounds, referring specifically to the figure of the grandmother of God, who was introduced to the Indigenous Peoples in Canada by the missionaries through an effective process of inculturation.

He recalled that part of the “painful legacy” of European colonization “stems from the fact that indigenous grandmothers were prevented from passing on the faith in their own language and culture”. “That loss – the Pope said - was certainly tragic, but your presence here is a testimony of resilience and a fresh start, of pilgrimage towards healing, of a heart open to God who heals the life of communities”.

Pope Francis then remarked that, today, “all the Church needs healing”, inviting the pilgrims to contribute to the building up of a “a Mother Church” capable of “embracing each of her sons and daughters”, that “is open to all and speaks to everyone”,  and  “encounters everyone”. He further emphasized that “if we want to care for and heal the life of our communities, we need to start with the poor and most marginalized”.

Cree Chief: Pope’s apology fosters hope of healing for Canada's Indigenous peoples

On Monday - the first full day of his “Penitential pilgrimage” to Canada - Pope Francis apologized and expressed his deep sorry and remorse for the sufferings inflicted on Indigenous peoples, particularly for the forced assimilation they endured in the residential school system.

For Wilton Littlechild, Cree Chief, a residential school survivor and lawyer, the Pope’s words are a “very important step on the journey to reconciliation that started many years ago.”

The pioneer for the global Indigenous rights movement and first Treaty Indian Member of Parliament shared his thoughts on the Pope’s visit, and his hope for a future of healing and appeasement for Canada’s Indigenous peoples, in an interview with Vatican News' Massimiliano Menichetti.

Chief Littlechild said he considers the Pope’s presence in Canada, especially in his home territory, as a “real blessing”. He acknowledged that the Pope’s message and words of apology addressed to the Indigenous peoples were “healing words” for all, but noted that the path to reconciliation requires more effort.

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