Edmonton (Agenzia Fides) - Faith in Christ can only be announced "in freedom and charity", as Christ himself wishes. When one renounces this trait of gratuitousness, and wants to "inculcate God in people" by imposing him as a postulate of "one's own cultural model". Yet this never works, because that is not how the Lord operates "he does not force us, he does not suppress or overwhelm; instead, he loves, he liberates, he leaves us free". Thus Pope Francis repeated in simple and clear terms that the work of the Church becomes fruitful only if it reflects the attraction of Christ's Grace and has his holy Cross as its source. The Pontiff re-proposed the characteristics of the apostolic mission in some key passages of the two speeches delivered on Monday July 25, on the second day of his apostolic visit to Canada. A journey lived and presented by the Pope himself as a "penitential pilgrimage", made with the intention of meeting the native peoples of Canada, and trying to start with them paths of reconciliation and healing, after the re-emergence of painful past events in which ecclesial apparatuses and practices had been involved in the processes of uprooting, submission and homologation imposed on the indigenous population by the Canadian social system.
In Maskwacìs, in the first public meeting with the representatives of the native populations - First Nations, Métis and Inuit -, the Pope again asked forgiveness "for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples". In particular, referring to Canadian history, the Pontiff asked forgiveness for the collaboration offered by members of the Church and religious communities to the forced cultural assimilation programs pursued by the Canadian governments of the time, through the system of so-called residential schools. Starting from the 19th century and up to 1970, about 150,000 minors belonging to Canadian native communities were sent to attend residential schools founded by the State and largely managed by religious congregations and Catholic missionary institutes. This initiative was part of the programs promoted by the State with the declared intention of "assimilating" the natives to the Canadian society of the time. That long experience was also marked by abuses and violence suffered by young people of indigenous peoples. The policies of assimilation - the Pope recalled - ended up systematically marginalizing native peoples, and the residential school system became a tool for the cancellation of languages and cultures of native peoples. When residential school attendance was made compulsory, many indigenous community boys and girls were effectively torn from their families forever. Although many missionaries worked in schools with a spirit of charity, the Pope acknowledged that "the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic" and the generous and zealous involvement of missionaries in that assimilation project wanted by the governments "was a disastrous error".
Addressed to the representatives of native peoples, the Pope defined remembering the devastating experiences that took place in residential schools as a painful but necessary act, even if it is destined to reopen ancient wounds. This act of memory, and the papal request for forgiveness - the Pontiff suggested - are not in themselves the starting point and image operations, but can become the first step to start processes of reconciliation and healing of memory, looking ahead to the future. A path of healing - added the Pope - in which "Our own efforts are not enough to achieve healing and reconciliation: we need God’s grace. We need the quiet and powerful wisdom of the Spirit, the tender love of the Comforter".
The most intense passages of the speech that Pope Francis gave in Edmonton, addressing members of the native populations and others belonging to the parish community of the church dedicated to the Sacred Heart, on the afternoon of Monday, July 25, were dedicated to the reconciling work of Christ. In that speech, taking a cue from the painful events of Canadian residential schools, the Bishop of Rome reiterated that behind every human claim to spread Christian content through cultural hegemonies or instruments of political and social domination, a worldliness of ecclesial dynamics is hidden, "One cannot proclaim God in a way contrary to God himself", and instead at times "we always have the temptation to impose him, and to impose ourselves in his name. It is the worldly temptation to make him come down from the cross and show himself with power". The reconciliation brought by Christ - said the Pontiff among other things - "was no agreement to preserve outward peace, a sort of gentlemen’s agreement meant to keep everyone happy. Nor was it a peace that dropped down from heaven, imposed from on high, or by assimilating the other.
The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus reconciles by bringing together, by making two distant groups one: one reality, one soul, one people". And how does he do that? "Through the cross".
A new beginning can also occur in the story of the native peoples of Canada with the Church. But to promote the healing of ancient wounds it is not enough to try and curse the past. "Jesus", the Pope emphasized, "does not offer us nice words and good intentions, but the cross: the scandalous love that allows his hands and feet to be pierced by nails, and his head to be crowned with thorns. This is the way forward: to look together to Christ, to love betrayed and crucified for our sake; to look to Christ, crucified in the many students of the residential schools".
"If we want to be reconciled with one another and with ourselves, to be reconciled with the past, with wrongs endured and memories wounded, with traumatic experiences that no human consolation can ever heal, our eyes must be lifted to the crucified Jesus; peace must be attained at the altar of his cross. For it is precisely on the tree of the cross that sorrow is transformed into love, death into life, disappointment into hope, abandonment into fellowship, distance into unity - stressed the Successor of Peter -Reconciliation is not merely the result of our own efforts; it is a gift that flows from the crucified Lord, a peace that radiates from the heart of Jesus, a grace that must be sought". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 26/7/2022)
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