Archbishops to join Métis on papal visit
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WINNIPEG’S two Roman Catholic archbishops will accompany Manitoba Métis Federation delegates when they meet the Pope at the Vatican this month to discuss the harms of residential schools.
“This is a pastoral initiative,” said Archbishop Richard Gagnon, adding he wants to help facilitate the April 21 meeting because “it’s important the Manitoba Métis Federation have an opportunity to engage with the Holy Father.”
St. Boniface Archbishop Albert LeGatt said the importance of the meeting is underscored by the “long history between the Archdiocese of St. Boniface and the Métis of the Red River.” The history dates back to the early 1800s, when the first Catholic missionaries came to what later became Manitoba.
“We have had over 200 years of walking together,” LeGatt said.
Last Friday, the Pope apologized to Indigenous peoples in Canada who suffered intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools. Following the apology, MMF president David Chartrand told the Free Press the Métis here had petitioned the Catholic church to build churches and create parishes in Manitoba.
That doesn’t mean their children were exempt from trauma at the hands of the Catholic church, Chartrand added.
“There is no doubt the Métis people paid a price with what either Catholic priests or nuns did. First Nations people, no doubt, suffered the greatest of all, but the Métis did definitely pay a price.”
When the Métis federation asked LeGatt to go to Rome, he readily agreed.
The same is true for Gagnon, whose archdiocese has a sizable number of Métis people.
“I want to facilitate and encourage their meeting with the Holy Father,” he said. “This is a historic occasion for these members of my flock.”
Neither archbishop plans to have a major speaking role during the meeting with the Pope.
“I just expect to be present when members of my flock meet the Holy Father,” said LeGatt.
Both archbishops also intend to stay out of the fractious relations between the MMF and the Métis National Council; the federation left the council in 2021 in a dispute over who could identify as a Métis.
“I am just a pastor being with his people when they meet the Holy Father,” said LeGatt. “I want to stay out of the politics.”
Gagnon agreed. “I am going because the Red River Métis are an important part of Métis reality in Canada,” he said.
As for the goal of the meeting, “they just want to be seen, be recognized, for the Holy Father to know they exist,” said LeGatt.
By meeting the Pope, “The (Métis federation) very much wants to strengthen its relationship with the Catholic church, seeing it as an important part of their culture,” said Gagnon. “I look forward to being with them when they meet the Holy Father.”
Chartrand said the delegation will ask the Pope to come “to the heart of the homeland of the Red River Métis to bless the final resting place of our great leader, Louis Riel.”
The Red River Métis, he said, “will begin to find peace and justice through this important act of reconciliation.”
“I am proud to be leading this pilgrimage to meet the Holy Father, and we look forward to discussing the renewal of our longstanding relationship,” he said.
Updated on Wednesday, April 6, 2022 9:15 AM CDT: Corrects name of Archbishop