July 29, 2022 – Pastor’s Note

It is always a big deal when a Pope comes to North America, but this last week’s visit of Pope Francis to Canada is unique even amongst this already rare occurrence. Rather than a state visit or a celebration of an event like World Youth Day or the World Meeting of Family, Pope Francis has described this trip as a “penitential pilgrimage” – something relatively unheard of in the history of papal travel. Specifically, he has come to Canada to apologize for the role of Catholics in the indigenous boarding school system in that country. I recommend Crux’s reporting (here and here) or the Pillar’s analysis.

I preached on these schools a year ago, and I think those reflections are still valid. In addition, this section of one of Crux’s articles caught my eye.

Although the residential schools were a government project, Catholic institutions had a leading role in running many of them.

“For this reason, I express my deep shame and sorrow, and, together with the bishops of this country, I renew my request for forgiveness for the wrong done by so many Christians to the Indigenous peoples,” the pope said.

“It is tragic when some believers, as happened in that period of history, conform themselves to the conventions of the world rather than to the Gospel,” Francis said.[1]

We should have known better. Had we been true to our faith – a faith that has always deeply valued the integrity of the family and evangelized through culture, not in opposition to it – we could have avoided the need for this pilgrimage. Instead, we gave ourselves over to “the conventions of the world”, the latest and most enlightened societal program, which made us complicit in serious, intergeneration harm to an entire culture. The Gospel will always make us holy; the World, less so. [2] Nevertheless, even, and especially if “everyone was doing it,” Pope Francis’ witness is prophetic. If someone has been harmed – sinned against – then the excuses and reasons do not matter. The apology, without caveats or backtracking, matters. We only have control over ourselves, and if we have sinned, we must show contrition and do penance for that sin, in big sins, like systemic abuses against Indigenous Peoples, and in small sins, like against those in our own household.


[1] These sentiments match recent comments by Canadian bishop Scott McCaig [full video, or comments beginning at 2:02].

[2] In that same vein, George Weigel wrote an entire book on how being more Catholic would have saved us from the sex abuse crisis. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-courage-to-be-catholic-george-weigel/1111639300

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