(This article first appeared in the June issue of the Anglican Journal.)
Is there any more wonderful sound than the bells of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, or those of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Christ Church Cathedral in Canterbury, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in old Quebec City? Is there any more wonderful sound than the bell of our own cathedral or parish church? A few have multiple bells with teams of bell ringers. A few others have carillons with trained chimers. Most, however, have but one bell, rung faithfully week by week by someone who has done it for many years.
The bell is rung to call people to worship, to welcome the newly baptized, to announce the newly married and to mark occasions of community celebration or mourning. For those who have died, the bell is tolled.
In remembrance of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada, our National Indigenous Anglican Bishop and I are calling for a special ringing of church bells across the country from May 31-which marks the beginning of the final national event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission-to June 21, the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer. This call is endorsed by the House of Bishops of our church.
To ring the bells is, first and foremost, an act of remembrance. Since 1980, 1,017 Aboriginal women and girls have been murdered and 164 have been classified by the RCMP as missing under suspicious circumstances.
To ring the bells is to pray for their families. For some, there has been some consolation in receiving the body of their daughter, sister or mother, to hold it with love and bury it with dignity. For others, there has never been, and may never be, an opportunity for such closure. They live in the anguish of a hope continually pierced by despair.
To ring the bells is to call attention to this national tragedy and a trend that shows no sign of reversal. According to the 2014 federal government report, Invisible Women: A Call to Action, “Aboriginal women and girls are among the most vulnerable in Canadian society. They are three times more likely to be the target of violent attacks than non-Aboriginal women and girls.” Many Aboriginal women and girls are trafficked and exploited through the sex trade. To ring the bells is to break what is essentially “a silence” about this tragedy.
To ring the bells is to honour the demand for a national inquiry.
To ring the bells is to stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities in their cries for increased policing, protection and emergency health care services, for increased provision for safe houses and programs for counselling.
Ring the bells however you will. Consider tolling the bell for as many times as there are murdered or missing Aboriginal women to date. Toll them over the course of the “22 Days,” perhaps at a designated time of day with prayers and commitments to help our country address this tragedy. (See related story, pp. 10-11.) Some may want to ring the bells in concert with the ringing of the bells of the Peace Tower in Ottawa, at noon on May 31, and others may choose to ring them on Sunday, June 21, the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer.
Just ring them!
For educational and liturgical resources to accompany your ringing, check out 22days.ca.