A grassroots group of Roman Catholics is launching a national healing fund for residential school survivors.
The fundraising, education and action campaign, called "The Time to Act is Now," is sponsored by Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation, a new Facebook group of almost 2,000 members who say they are "people with broken hearts who are moved to respond in some way."
The goal is to raise at least $50,000 for three national Indigenous organizations: First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, Reconciliation Canada, and Returning to Spirit.
Organizers also want to encourage non-Indigenous Catholics to learn more about the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Organizer Erin Kinsella of Stittsville, Ont., says the campaign grew out of "a desire to work towards reconciliation."
The planning team, which includes an Indigenous elder, consulted with Indigenous sources to determine where best to send the money.
Kinsella, who was born in Winnipeg and worked for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg in youth and young adult ministries from 2010-13, said the campaign is not intended to be divisive within the church.
"We want to work with the support of bishops," she said, noting, as a grassroots effort, "it’s easier for us to get things moving" than for the national church.
"There is a sense of urgency" to start fundraising now, when the issue is top of mind for many Canadians.
Planning for the campaign only started a few weeks ago, with committee members in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
"Only God’s providence can explain how it has come together so quickly," said Kinsella, who is finishing her studies at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto.
"God has brought together people we need, and a lot of prayer has gone into it. It’s a profound experience to see how the Lord is working, with his hand on everything."
In addition to money, the campaign (catholics4tr.weebly.com) is calling on non-Indigenous Catholics to learn more about residential schools and take action to repair relations with Indigenous people.
That’s where Mary LeMaitre of Winnipeg comes in.
LeMaitre, a professor at the University of Winnipeg who attends services at St. Mary’s Cathedral, was responsible for writing the calls to action and learning component of the campaign.
"We want to let people know what they can do in their parish and community," she said, noting: "We all have gifts we can offer to help with reconciliation in our country, and to fix the colonial legacy. This is the gift I could offer."
She desires to pursue and promote reconciliation.
"As a Catholic today, I wasn’t involved in setting up or running the schools," she said. "But I feel a responsibility to repair the damage done in the past. I want to stand with Indigenous people and change unjust structures with them."
Organizers are mindful of the failure of the 2008-13 "best efforts" campaign by the Catholic Church to raise $25 million to fund reconciliation efforts. That campaign raised only about $4 million.
Many Catholics may have been unaware of it at the time or it just didn’t grab the attention of church members, she said.
"But we are at a place now where people are aware and want to do something."
Archbishop Richard Gagnon of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, who is also president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted the conference is not part of the new fundraising campaign.
However, he said, the time may be right for grassroots responses such as this, adding he supports "good people doing good things" to furthering reconciliation.
Non-Catholics are also invited to support the campaign. For more information, or to make a donation, go to https://catholics4tr.weebly.com.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.