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NEW YORK – With 26 commitments across three separate pastoral letters, the Canadian bishops have, albeit only in broad strokes, outlined how they plan to honor a pledge to embark “into a new era of reconciliation” with the nation’s indigenous peoples.
The pastoral letters, released by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on Feb. 8, were sent to the First Nations, the Inuit of Canada, and Métis Indigenous Peoples. The commitments made vary slightly from letter to letter, but largely focus on deepening dialogue, working with community leaders to address social challenges, education, engaging indigenous youth and supporting advocacy efforts.
Also expressed in the letters was a pledge to fulfill a 2021 financial commitment to donate $30 million over a five year period to “support healing and reconciliation initiatives for residential school survivors, their families, and their communities.”
To date, about $9.35 million has been raised through the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund.
Collectively titled “That We May Walk Together,” the letters are the result of months of listening sessions and dialogue between Canadian Catholic leaders and Indigenous Peoples, the Canadian Indigenous delegation visit to the Vatican last April, and Pope Francis’s trip to Canada last July, according to the CCCB. The title stems from the “Walking Together” theme of the Holy Father’s trip.
“Having heard from Indigenous Survivors, Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and Youth, and inspired by the witness of Pope Francis during his ‘penitential pilgrimage’ in Canada, who encouraged Canada’s Bishops to continue walking with Indigenous People’s along the path of truth, justice, healing, reconciliation and hope, these letters present a framework for local engagement by Bishops with Indigenous Peoples in their dioceses/eparchies,” the CCCB said in a statement announcing the letters.
Canada has 59 dioceses and 12 eparchies. Leaders from the First Nations, Iniut of Canada, and Métis declined a Crux request for comment on the letters and outlined initiatives.
The CCCB published a fourth pastoral letter to the people of God in Canada, asking them to join the “pilgrimage towards deep healing and lasting reconciliation.” The letter explains that the treatment of Indigenous Peoples is a “dark and tragic” part of both the Canadian and Christian stories.
“As the Bishops of Canada’s Catholic dioceses and eparchies … we renew our profound sorrow for the wrong that was done, and commit ourselves to finding new ways to accompany Indigenous Peoples in their pursuit of justice, healing, and reconciliation,” the letter states.
The letter notes that listening and dialogue are key to building upon the relationships that have been developed in recent months. It touts the need to establish new ways to walk with Indigenous communities including the establishment of new avenues for dialogue, regular meetings between Canadian leaders and Indigenous leaders, and updates to religious education.
“Here the voices of Indigenous People will be most helpful: teaching the Indigenous experience of residential schools, while also sharing the gifts of their respective traditions, wisdoms, histories, cultures, and ways of life,” the letter states. “Let us all be humble and open to learning from Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers present in our communities.”
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