Making the case for a Manitoba visit

The 175,000 Manitobans who attended mass at Birds Hill Park on Sept. 16, 1984, will likely never forget the homily preached by Pope John Paul II, who said: “Love of God is organically linked with love for others — with mutual love.”

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The 175,000 Manitobans who attended mass at Birds Hill Park on Sept. 16, 1984, will likely never forget the homily preached by Pope John Paul II, who said: “Love of God is organically linked with love for others — with mutual love.”

It was an important message at the time. Given recent revelations of the church’s involvement in residential-school atrocities, perhaps it would be even more important for the current Pope to accept an invitation to visit Manitoba and extend some love.

The prospect of an upcoming papal visit to Canada came after the Vatican welcomed several First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations in recent months, leading in March to Pope Francis issuing a detailed apology for the “deplorable” conduct of some church members who were in positions of authority in residential schools.

Several groups invited the Pope to reinforce his words with a visit to Manitoba. Media reports cite sources as saying the Pope will visit Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit during a four-day trip to Canada, but his itinerary hasn’t been confirmed. This leads many to hope Vatican officials will consider the many reasons why Manitoba should be included.

As a display of how significant a papal visit would be to Manitoba, parties in the provincial legislature set aside partisan differences and gave unanimous consent last Thursday to a New Democratic Party motion to invite the Pope to this province.

Progressive Conservative government house leader Kelvin Goertzen, who hasn’t had an abundance of experience in supporting NDP motions, said, “This place can be powerful, in a very meaningful way, when we do it together across party lines.”

If Pope Francis accepts invitations to visit Manitoba, he will find a province that is currently undertaking the hard work of reconciliation related to historic injustices to Indigenous people, many of which occurred in residential schools operated by the Roman Catholic church.

Reconciliation wasn’t mentioned when Pope John Paul II visited Winnipeg 38 years ago, a time when the full bleak impact of residential schools was not as widely known. Although most of Manitoba’s 19 residential schools had closed by then — the final one, near Dauphin, remained open until 1988 — it wasn’t until 2015 that the Truth And Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued a multi-volume report that gave the public reputable insight into the consequences of the government-and-church partnership that took Indigenous children from their homes and tried to erase their cultural identities in a school system that was often abusive.

Andrew Medichini / The Associated Press files
Pope Francis is expected to visit Canada in the coming months.

Pope Francis knows all this, judging by his recent apology to Indigenous leaders: “I also feel sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, and the abuses you suffered and the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values.”

As Vatican officials choose which Canadian locales would be most appropriate for a papal visit, Métis leaders have invited the Pope to bless the grave of Louis Riel, a founder of Manitoba who was a devout Catholic and is buried at the St. Boniface Cemetery.

It’s relevant to note Manitoba is the province that has the largest per-capita Indigenous population. Winnipeg is also considered a hub of reconciliation, with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba now housing all of the documents collected by the TRC.

A visit by Pope Francis could help Manitobans process the church’s apology, and perhaps move toward acceptance and forgiveness. For many Manitobans, a papal visit would be an answer to prayer.

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