Inuvik—Three Anglican bishops and two Roman Catholic bishops offered expressions of regret, then embraced and presented each other with gifts of reconciliation.
This symbolic gesture, made here Jun. 29 at the national northern event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada, follows a long history of division between the churches. Tragically, this animosity often found its way into the church-run residential schools, where it was common for native Indian, Metis and Inuit students to be pitted against each other.
Hundreds of former residential school students witnessed the gestures of reconciliation. The gathering was held at the gymnasium of Sir Alexander Mackenzie School where not so long ago, the policy was to house students separately in Anglican and Roman Catholic hostels.
Religion and politics were “deeply connected” in Canada’s history with Britain and France and when their settlers moved into the North, “they brought that division and competitiveness that affected the communities here,” noted the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mackenzie, Murray Chatlain. For instance, he said, there were conflicts between students at the Anglican-run hostel, Stringer Hall, and those at the Catholic-run Grollier Hall. “These are things we’re offering regret for,” said Bishop Chatlain.
And in fact, at a forum later in the day, former students spoke about the impact of those divisions. “The very first thing I learned was hate,” said Les Carpenter, who stayed at the Anglican-run Stringer Hall and is a popular broadcaster in the North. “I was taught to hate Catholics.”
The Roman Catholic Bishop of the Yukon, Gary Gordon, also acknowledged that “there’s been much hurt not only from respective schools that we ran, but also much hurt from the way that Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy persecuted one another and brought that into families and caused great divisions.”
Some 50 years ago, “the Holy Spirit landed on our respective leaders,” he added, and gave way to what has now been 40 years of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue. “Is reconciliation complete?” asked Gordon, who is a member of the dialogue. “No. Is it on the way? Very much so. Are we able to work together? In many ways, yes.”
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald noted that in the 1980s, Pope John Paul II spoke of indigenous rights as part of the churches’ responsibility in Canada and Australia. His words offered new standards for Christian churches, said Bishop MacDonald. “We are to proclaim the gospel and stand with the people of the land. We offer our friendship and our commitment to those rights as a part of our reconciliation with what happened in the past.”
The Anglican Bishop of the Yukon, Larry Robertson, offered an apology to aboriginal people, saying, “If I have caused pain by my ignorance, I am truly, truly sorry.” When he came to the North as a young priest 35 years ago, Bishop Robertson said he had vowed that he was “not going to be like the priests of the past who brought their culture and their prejudices with them” and would only bring “God’s love and peace.” But, he said, he was a flawed person “who grew up in a messed-up family” and so he brought with him his own views about native people.
Bishop Robertson said that he had also personally witnessed the rivalry between Catholic and Anglican clergy, but that times have changed. He talked about instances of shared ministry–of how a Catholic priest had once asked him if young Catholic students in Bible class could learn alongside their Anglican counterparts.
Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, area bishop for the diocese of Keewatin’s northern Ontario region, said that while she and other residential school students had been forbidden to speak their language, she thanks God that she has managed to retain it so that now, she is able to preach both in Cree and English. She paid tribute to former students gathered here saying that their strength has allowed them “to be happy, to have joy, despite all the fears we shared.”
Henriette Thompson, the Anglican church’s coordinator for Ecumenical, Interfaith and Government Relations, expressed the hope that the gestures of reconciliation offered by the two churches would “bring healing and wholeness” to former students and their families who have been affected by these past divisions.
After each spoke, Bishop Chatlain Bishop Robertson with a hand-carved cross from South America. Bishop Robertson, in turn, offered Bishop Chatlain a beaded cross necklace given to him by a native Anglican who had expressed the hope that “we would walk together in our journey of light.”