It’s time the Catholic Church bears its own cross
Aurelius Augustinus was born in 354 in present-day Algeria, a part of the crumbling Roman Empire. By mid-life, he was a man in crisis, gloomy and taciturn, a reluctant practitioner of a promiscuous lifestyle – a portraiture of the abject sinner.
His own father had lived as a pagan until converting to Christianity on his deathbed.
Augustinus conquered a series of women, put together a life of immediate pleasures that included marriage, a mistress, a son out of wedlock, all-night debauchery and a belief system based on Cicero’s musings. His heart was a rucksack, filled with contaminants.
His mood: black. His outlook: blacker. His temperament: surly, hardened. His future: blank. His soul: a tomb.
The faint outlines of a new Christian orthodoxy were arising in the Mediterranean world, and Augustinus was familiar with its growing influence throughout a land and time that had been searching for something more. His mother had been a devout follower and exerted a quiet desire for her son to fold himself into its teachings. It offered meaning for the masses who, for millennia, had become lost between pagan idol worship and the vagaries of indentured labour under the rule of kings and feudal lords.
Religion had, since the dawn of civilization, served as a loosely formed system of traditions meant to protect humans and bestow riches upon them from whomever was responsible for their existence.
Catholicism advanced around the Mediterranean and introduced many of the modern concepts of faith that arose simultaneously in far off places like China, India and Eastern Arabia, intertwining moral obligation with duty to the institutions that created order. Augustinus remained skeptical and believed all particles – those that made us human – were either good or evil. He wrote: ‘My inner self was a house divided against itself.’
He fell into fits of self-loathing and searched in vain for something or someone as interesting as himself to write about. When he found nothing, he turned inward, dove deep, and found his bruised soul. All his fears and misgivings spilled out like the filth clogging the ancient cities’ stinking sewers.
His day of reckoning began early one morning when, after another night of heavy drinking, he awoke to the glorious sounds of children at play. Their sing-songy voices struck a chord so deep within him, he could barely move. He rushed to the window and watched them run, jump, laugh.
The ugly sediment that had settled in his soul from all his wasteful years of adulthood, magically disappeared. He reached into a pile of books on a nearby table, then opened one to a random passage from St. Matthew. Something otherworldly was at play, as if a host of angels were singing in harmony. The passage talked about giving up all worldly possessions. It was his slap-in-the-face moment, an early incarnation of the miserable fool coming to his senses.
Augustinus became Saint Augustine, the great moralist and minimalist. He cut his possessions to the bone. Like a photographer fiddling with the lens on a camera, his life came sharply into focus. He finally knew who he was and what he had to do.
The disassembling of his life began in earnest.
He purged himself of his home, jewelry, money, and all the attitudes that drove him to reach for all those wasteful wants in the first place. This warm feeling of giving yourself up to a belief system is what he called rapture – a true love of God.
Faith took him back to an Edenic state of child-like purity. It was his truth and reconciliation moment.
A painting of Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne (Image from Wikicommons)
Saint Augustine’s Confessions (and later still, The City of God) were written and hit the western world with explosive force. Both led to the re-energizing of Christian faith and the reorganization of the Catholic Church. He helped craft liturgy which, over time, created the modern-day Catholic ethos.
He merged the philosophy of Plato and Neoplatonism and viewed God as transcendent. He paid equal attention to reforms, and his second dimension of sin was the structural injustices that allowed children to be born into poverty, to have shorter life expectancies and few educational opportunities. The Church would be a guidebook on how to live a purer, and fuller life. It was supposed to be the great leveller, and the religion itself was to finally become the embodiment of its namesake, a man so disinterested in material trappings, status and power he appeared to walk on water, made weightless by the freedom from human desires.
The word Catholic comes from the ancient Greek, katholikos, which means ‘on the whole’ or ‘universal’ in modern parlance. The Catholic Church is meant to represent the universal teaching of Christianity.
Augustine believed relentless inquiry was at the heart of the Church’s mission. To be truly universal it had to be open to constant questioning. His Platonic (and therefore Socratic) belief in a philosophical pursuit of reason, had to be part of the Church’s commitment to Christ. Just like his own ability to shed his sinful skin, Catholicism held the promise to lead all God’s children up from the depths they descend to, as long as the men who shaped this house of God were not corrupted by sin themselves.
Augustine’s desire for the Church, and the life he once thought it could help create, was overcome by the rise of dogma. Any institution that could hold civilization in place, would inevitably succumb to its own power.
He saw the signs early on, when the Church began to resist any translation of the New Testament from the original ancient Greek (partially derived from Aramaic) to the various vernaculars of the growing Catholic world.
There are two theories for this political stance: The Catholic Church did not want lay-people to think Jesus was a devout Jew throughout his life (raising questions about the need for a new Christian religion at all); and the more widely accepted theory that the Church did not want followers to understand the New Testament which was free from the various interpretations of the constantly modernizing and increasingly political institution. In other words, the keepers of the faith did not want followers to know the truth, for it would lead to questions about why the Church did not follow its own teachings.
Remember this for later.
In time, this new-look Church inevitably became entrapped in even more dogma, enfeebled by rules and regulations and layers of bureaucracy. Popes and so-called pious leaders were presented with opportunities the younger, sinful Augustinus would have dreamed of. Awash in gold and power bestowed by kings and queens and entire empires mesmerized by the Church’s growing grip on the masses, for centuries these rulers heaped more and more riches upon the Catholic Church.
It was the great opiate.
Saint Augustine was still able to deploy his philosophical reasoning and gift for writing. He left a formidable mark on the Church. To this day his teachings on morality and virtue make up a sizeable share of the Catholic canon. He had truly been born again.
The Vatican, unfortunately, was also born again.
The Holy See grew into the Papal States, with its own army, and to this day is one of only seven “absolute monarchies” in the world. The Pope has absolute power, complete autocratic authority over the Vatican and is literally above any written law. Some of the other six who enjoy the same treatment include the Sultan of Oman and the King of Saudi Arabia. Strange company for a man who is the moral leader of 1.3 billion followers.
Through the Middle Ages and into the enlightenment the Vatican emerged, physically and metaphysically, as a global power unto itself.
The low point of the Papacy was during the rule of Pope John XII, from 955 to 964, when he paid little attention to his spiritual duties in favour of his simultaneous role as ruler of the Papal States, while he turned what was eventually the Papal residence into a brothel.
The debauchery and corruption of the Church continued for centuries, as Vatican City, an independent state, grew more and more opulent while Catholicism spread around the world, the great drug that controlled the growing masses, funded and supported by kings and emerging governments who recognized the invaluable role of an institution that could create order among civilizations. The word itself means people who have learned to live together through human progress. What better way to convince them all was fine despite their miserable treatment, than the invocation of a divine plan.
When questions arose from the inevitable concerns of the civilized, too smart to be conned for long, the Church bristled at reform. To some critics, it was sclerotic, a hydra-headed monster.
Its epistemic crisis reached new lows in depravity during the Spanish Inquisition when heinous acts of torture were practiced against those who didn’t pass the Church’s purity test.
In other jurisdictions, those who practiced blasphemy (like translating the Bible into a country’s native language) were burned at the stake.
On and on it went, reformers pitted against reactionaries, and all religions tightening the screws on free thinkers.
It was used by all the European imperial, colonial powers. Wherever they went, the Catholic Church followed, laying the groundwork for conversion and then the subjugation by monarchies and nascent western governments fuelled by the labour and resources of their colonial conquests.
The great march of western ideology storming across the world held the Catholic flag up high.
Its power was often the only way colonial rulers could trick native populations into believing in a greater destiny. The Aztecs were among the first to be forced into mass conversions by the Catholic Church under the will of Spain’s King Charles V, in the early 1500s. The religious subjugation was part of the political takeover by a foreign power from the other side of the Atlantic.
The extraction of silver and other minerals from what is now Mexico gave rise to the Spanish Empire.
It was the same across what we now call Canada, for the British and French.
It would have been impossible without the Catholic Church’s spellbinding mission to supposedly salvage the souls of savages.
The French, in particular, used the Catholic Church established in Lower Canada, while the British in Upper Canada deployed the Anglican Church which eventually built “Indian” and “Eskimo” schools to make the original peoples of the land “civilized”.
The governments of the day did not want any problems from those who stood in the way of immeasurable riches.
In exchange for lining the pockets of French and British aristocrats and their growing cadre of bureaucratic minions in the new world, the way of life practiced for millennia across the endless prairies and around the majestic Great Lakes, throughout the coastal regions along two oceans and in the northern reaches of a vast and humbling land, was almost entirely wiped out forever.
The Catholic Church was no church at all. It was not a place of worship. It was a tool of genocide. As it had been for centuries before.
Its “Residential Schools” were places of salvation, of learning, to help all those poor children adapt and prosper in the new western world being built around them. This is what the Catholic Church said 150 years ago and it’s what it says today.
Just ask Owen Keenan. He was only parroting the line of his holy institution a few weeks ago when the Mississauga clergyman told the Merciful Redeemer Parrish of all the “good” residential schools had done. Only after a firestorm of anger engulfed the man who supposedly represented ‘merciful redemption’ did he offer his resignation, and that was only after he taunted critics when he made the remarks during a sermon, claiming he could imagine what sort of messages would soon appear in his in-box.
No, he couldn’t.
Owen Keenan resigned after facing fierce backlash over his remarks (Screen grab from YouTube)
Like the Catholic Church, he was completely detached from the mood sweeping across this country.
A growing number refuse to sit by any longer.
Our First Nations and other Indigenous neighbours are our brothers and sisters. That is the way they see everyone. And many of the rest of us are starting to understand how profound their traditional way of life is.
And we are starting to comprehend, after decades of government efforts to hide the shameful truth, how crucial the task is to reconcile what has been done to the original protectors of our land since the Catholic Church and the rest of the European colonizers arrived on their shores.
Perhaps it’s the contrast between their traditional values and those of the Church that has left many people somewhere between despair and laughter over the thought that people like Owen Keenan could ever teach our First Nations about spiritualism.
Modern day evils in the Catholic Church include systemic sexual abuse of children by priests, or the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children in Canada’s residential school system, the majority run by the Catholic Church.
It practiced overt racism, tortured children who resisted conversion to a religion that would tear them from their parents and then bury them in unmarked graves.
Our First Nations are catching their collective breaths, trying to come to grips with this trauma. So are the non-Indigenous.
Unfortunately, expressions of white guilt too often dominate the narrative, especially in our tone deaf, homogenous media ecosystem.
Our politicians are no better.
On Thursday, Manitoba’s new ‘Indigenous reconciliation’ minister, Alan Lagimodiere, stood at the steps of the legislature to accept his new role in a province where anti-Indigenous racism runs rampant and told those who look and sound just like him that residential schools helped “Indigenous children and gave them the kind of skills and abilities they would need to fit into society.”
No, they are a barbaric legacy of the treatment of our First Nations and the other Indigenous who were targeted for extermination.
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew reminded the aging boomer about what actually happened inside those schools.
The man who is now supposed to lead the province into a new era of cooperation stood and stared blankly at Kinew, who, during the live broadcast, walked to within a few feet of the latest leader destined to fail miserably.
Kinew’s ancestors beat the Europeans here by thousands and thousands of years. But somehow, the land and the spiritual beliefs that protected it were all usurped by a people who used the Church to take what they to this day believe is rightfully theirs.
They even imported their system of laws, a mysterious labyrinth of written codes and clauses that serve those who created them. They have been deployed ever since to ensure the people who lived here for thousands of years will be kept docile and subjugated on the small parcels of space designated just for them. The churches now burning on those lands were meant to keep them drugged, but the power is quickly wearing off.
Our First Nations have something the Catholic Church can never possess: a spiritual belief that every molecule of our universe is connected, with no strings attached.
How could a people who didn’t need power, be controlled? How could seekers who shared everything, be bought? How could custodians that lived so lightly on the land, be convinced to settle in one place to be polluted for their own pleasure?
But our First Nations and the rest of the Indigenous populations would be taught the ways of the west, whether they liked it or not.
The residential school system is now, finally, just being recognized as Canada’s original sin – like slavery in the U.S.
History can be a harsh mistress, filled with immutable laws. Over the past few weeks, it has shown the inseverable tie that racism holds in this country, writ large in the child deaths at our residential schools. These beautiful souls were discarded in life, and then again in death. So much for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Church likes to tell its parish that all people are its children. What child deserves to be treated like that?
And the Pope (father in Greek) won’t even issue an apology.
Pope Francis has refused to apologize for the Catholic Church's role in the residential school system. (Image from Wikicommons)
The residential school system operated by stealth, went virtually unchecked by government. Ottawa gladly offered up its federal police force, the RCMP, to assist in separating children from their parents. This practice gained an early foothold in 1860s’ Ontario, and grew with more menace and meanness throughout the rest of that century and right up to the end of the 1990s.
These schools forced children to deny who they were. They were forbidden to speak their language. They could not dress in the traditional way or wear their hair long. And they had to convert to Christianity. This authoritarian system is also known as cultural genocide.
It’s unclear how those children found in unmarked graves died – was it neglect, disease, abuse, hunger, or all of the above?
Who were the perpetrators of these crimes: was it the priests, nuns, Catholic laypeople, or all of the above?
Is the lack of cooperation by the Catholic Church, to provide records of what it did, nothing more than a legal strategy to avoid more lawsuits?
If you think the institution got better in the 20th Century, think again.
In Germany alone, where only a little more than a quarter of the population is Catholic, 1,670 Catholic clergy (mostly priests) sexually abused children and other parishioners between 1946 and 2014 and there were at least 3,677 victims, according to a 2018 commission. A German court said this was likely just the tip of the iceberg as the vast majority of cases were either never reported or were hidden by the Church.
The head of the Catholic Church in the country, Bishop Cardinal Reinhard Marx, is one of few leaders taking responsibility and showing any sign of moral conviction on behalf of an institution that claims to represent God. He has said the Church has lost the trust of the German people and has formally submitted his resignation.
Marx has had to repeatedly apologize to the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of German priests, many of whom tormented their prey even after the Church found out about their behaviour.
He said the Church is responsible for “systemic” failures and is at a “dead end”.
"I am convinced that there will be a new epoch of Christianity, there's no question about it," he said recently. "But this can only happen... if the Church renews itself and learns from this crisis."
What happened here in Canada was perhaps unparalleled in scope.
If you thought the unspeakable treatment of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration was horrific (kids in cages, pulled away from their sobbing parents) this was dwarfed in degree by what took place north of the 49th parallel over more than 150 years.
Just what happened behind these closed doors?
The government-church-police were partners in the worst crime on the books: institutionalized child abuse.
This has incensed both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and has shaken the foundations of this country.
In the days after the first 215 unmarked graves were found in Kamloops, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put the blame squarely on all of us, including the residential school overseers, the Catholic and Protestant churches. He told the House of Commons: Those children whose bodies were found or have yet to be found, “would have been grandparents or great grandparents. They would have been Elders, 'Knowledge Keepers' and community leaders. They are not, and that is the fault of Canada.”
And how did the head of the Catholic Church in this country respond?
Cardinal Thomas Collins insisted Trudeau was “unfair” in calling out the Church to do more. “We want to work together,” he said. “These types of sharp comments, which are not based on real fact, are most unfortunate.”
Trudeau himself represents a government that refuses to act on the key recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continues to fight court cases against First Nations who simply want original treaty rights to be recognized.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper refused to add Canada as a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and Trudeau has often spoken out of both sides of his mouth when claiming to be an ally of First Nations while simultaneously refusing to act on pipeline demands and the dire lack of clean drinking water in many Indigenous communities.
Liberal MP Pam Damoff (Oakville North-Burlington) recently said: "Canada was founded on racism and colonialism,” suggesting much of that legacy is still intact.
The recent revelations of how unidentifiable children were inhumanely discarded by residential schools only backs up the sentiment.
Yes, the Catholic Church ran the bulk of these facilities, and most of us now turn our eyes to it, as the bodies pile up.
Many are mystified by their slow-walk to release records, to help find the names of victims, or issue an apology. Trudeau personally asked Pope Francis as far back as 2017 to consider it in response to the Church’s systemic, centuries-long attack on the First Peoples of this land. No apology came from the Vatican. The silence from the Holy See can’t be blamed on the Pope’s recent stay in hospital, but looks like a deliberate attempt to stall, reassess, or simply reject any talk of complicity in a crime against humanity.
Some 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly sent to residential schools. Most survived but remained broken and unable to move on. Their horror stories poured out in the 2008 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) under the leadership of Indigenous lawyer Murray Sinclair.
More than seven generations of Indigenous families were torn apart and left un-whole.
Until recently, most Canadians had little idea of this widespread plague of abuse. It never made it into our history books, or school curricula. The government, RCMP, social service agencies and mainstream media went MIA.
Anger seems to be the go-to emotion in response to the child graves being discovered every couple weeks and even this has also taken a violent turn. ‘Temperature Rising’ sits atop a recent news story that captured the spate of fires that have destroyed some of those Catholic churches located on First Nations communities in Canada.
On the Siksika Nation (95 kilometres east of Calgary), there are two churches serving 8,000 residents, one Catholic, the other Anglican. Both were put to the torch.
The irony is that many of these cases of potential arson are being investigated by the RCMP, the same institution that separated many of the children from their parents. A spokesman for an RCMP detachment in B.C., said the force was “sensitive to the recent events but won’t speculate on a motive.”
The Pointer will: revenge.
This Catholic church in Alberta was one of many burned down or vandalized in recent weeks. (Screen grab from YouTube)
Amarnath Amarasingam, assistant professor in the school of religion and in the department of political studies at Queen’s University said, when people have something to say and feel like no one is listening, they often turn to violence.
These actions seem born out of outrage, frustration, and the need to do something, anything.
The stopping of pipelines built through First Nations lands, or closing roads, or stopping trains, is also born from frustration, and a need to send a clear message.
In the early 1990s the town of Oka, Quebec, tried to expand a local golf course near one of the local tribe’s burial sites. The conflict was long, the reasons complicated, and the conclusion tragic, with two fatalities. In 1995, an Ojibwe band occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario to assert claim to nearby land which had been expropriated from them. During this violent confrontation, an OPP officer killed protester Dudley George. George was armed with a stick (which, according to some officers, could be mistaken for a gun).
After both Oka and Ipperwash, inquiries were held. George’s killer went to jail but got a light sentence.
The backlash toward First Nations’ members in Oka and Ipperwash was loud, and in some cases, racially charged.
The tone and attitude across much of the country has changed. The truth about how our Indigenous communities have been horrifically treated for generations is finally coming out. Our homogenous white media, run by people like Conrad Black since the beginning is less and less relevant. Social media is used by Indigenous authors and journalists who don’t need the mainstream outlets anymore and many other allies are finding a voice that can no longer be supressed.
Catholic leaders like Owen Keenan can no longer preach their racist views from the hidden lecterns of their houses of worship. He was outed thanks to YouTube and other online platforms, and even some traditional media finally realize the consequences of failing to reflect what Canada actually looks and feels like.
The Catholic Civil Rights League issued a statement recently under this headline: “Burning Down Churches is Not the Answer.”
It is right. But what answer is the Church providing? Its leader won’t even acknowledge an apology is the place to start.
Pope Francis remains unmoved. He has invited aboriginal elders to a meeting at the Vatican in December. Cynics suggest this is another stall tactic, waiting out this hot summer, allowing temperatures to cool as the fires burn themselves out. The option to apologize remains on the table. No one is holding their breath.
A recent editorial in the Catholic Register shows how the discovery of unmarked graves is “a punch in the gut” to church members. The article stated: “We are hurt by the Church we love and belong to because of its lack of action and apparent willingness to minimize and not fully assume responsibility for its and our role in one of the darkest chapters in Canadian history.”
Disgust seems behind Sinclair’s recent comments to a parliamentary committee. He wants to see an independent investigation into the burial sites. In other words: butt out RCMP. The Mounties don’t have the right – or the moral authority – to look into illegal acts when they were guilty of the same thing for 150 years.
The late Christopher Hitchens bristled at organized religion, its power of persuasion, its dogmatic rules and its idiotic regulations. This rock-hard authoritarian streak allows it to pit one sect against another, preach hatred, and manipulate scripture and its followers. The 1929 Lateran Accords, which ended decades of discord between the Italian government and the Vatican, was struck with fascist Benito Mussolini. Nazism also proved popular in Catholic states like Slovakia, Croatia, Franco’s Spain and Salazar’s Portugal.
Why, asked Hitchens in a debate, did Hitler write in Mein Kampf that he’s doing God’s work and executing God’s will in destroying the Jewish people? How come on the belt buckle of every Nazi soldier did it say Gott mit uns – God on our side? How come the first treaty made by the Nationalist Socialist dictatorship was signed with the Vatican?
Hitchens hated the word closure. It was unattainable to those who suffered the loss of a loved one. The death of a child is a world killer. Imagine 215? Imagine thousands and thousands more? Then imagine hundreds of thousands more who weren’t discarded in unmarked graves but died just like the others, with no sense of who they were. And the countless others who carry the same legacy of genocide with them to this day. No wonder in most indigenous languages there is no word for good-bye. How do you say goodbye to entire generations, to an entire way of life cultivated by the land and stars and water for millennia, before the arrival of the white man… and his so-called religion.
Hitchens said human decency isn’t derived from religion, but preceded it. And major religions are “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism and bigotry, contemptuous of woman, and coercive toward children.”
His conclusion: “Philosophy begins where religion ends. The task of atheists is to raise people above that level of servility and credulity. No society has gone the way of gulags or concentration camps by following the path of Spinoza and Einstein and Jefferson and Thomas Paine.”
Keenan, the former pastor of the Merciful Redeemer Parish in Mississauga, revealed during his now infamous recent Sunday sermon the ways of the Church. With the news of child graves at residential schools still fresh in the minds of his parishioners, he reached unsurpassed levels of insensitivity and unawareness – as if he were a mad monk who was drunk on too much altar wine. He told his flock, “Many people had very positive experiences at residential schools. Many people received health care and education and joyful experiences.”
He blundered on and said the Church was being “unfairly criticized” for its role in the residential schools’ scandals.
The backlash was immediate and ugly: he resigned, the Archdiocese of Toronto issued a full apology for the pain the defrocked pastor had caused, and in an interview with The Pointer, Chief Stacey LaForme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation (who sat on the ’08 Truth and Reconciliation commission) questioned Keenan’s suitability for his leadership position.
Keenan might have been wise to learn the art of equanimity which was practiced by another Mississauga religious leader. Sacred Feathers (Kahkewaquonaby) was the son of an Indigenous mother and Welsh-born surveyor father, Augusta Jones. He grew up in a Mississauga tribe which lived along the banks of Lake Ontario and the Credit River until the onrush of settlement changed these tribal lands forever. He felt the spirits had deserted him and the Mississaugas, and eventually drifted over to Christianity and became a Methodist minister. He was one of finest writers, speakers, and intellects of his age. He had his mother’s “pure heart” and his Christian name Peter would eventually be attached to one of the streets in present-day Port Credit.
But it was one of his popular speaking tours of Britain in the mid-1800s that made his legend.
He arrived in England in 1845, hoping to raise money for his tribe that was now beyond destitute. Sacred Feathers cut an impressive figure: rough-hewed, chiselled handsomeness, and dressed in full headdress, buckskin clothing, flowing long hair, and caramel-coloured skin. The theme of his speeches was simple, yet profound, and mostly ignored by those in the audiences: help your fellow man.
Each tour seemed to fill him with sorrow. He yearned for home. He hated the lousy English food and weather. Yet it was something more ethereal that truly bugged him. Upon his return to Canada, he spewed it out in this passage: “The English were unready to relieve the wants and needs of the poor and needy. They pay close attention to what business produces, but forget to think about their souls. They fly about in every direction… in search of the treasure that lies so near to their hearts.”
That treasure was helping your fellow man, another version of a famous homily, The Golden Rule.
This is the maxim found in almost all of the world’s major religions and cultures. This simple ethic of reciprocity is what should govern mankind’s conduct, said Sacred Feathers.
The Indigenous version of The Golden Rule has a humanistic and ecological bent, for they understand there is no humanity without the ecosystem that protects us: “We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.”
Perhaps more importantly, our First Nations’ elders often remind that we humans are not the centre of this vast, cosmic ecosystem, we are just a tiny part of it, and our molecules are connected to all others. So how could we treat any of them with apathy or malice?
The first people of the lands we now call Canada had no name. They travelled in twos and fours. They took nourishment from the earth and trusted their spirit to the Inyan, Maka, Skan and Wi – the rock, the earth, the sky and the sun.
These people shared language and worship and the ceremonial camp circle, and over time, these bands formed tribes. The hub in this wheel was the tribal council, a committee without a king, a governor, or a ruling hierarchy. All tribe members were welcome; each had a say; all could vote.
Their tribal elders weren’t chosen or tested; one day they simply were. They lived upon the land but swept away their footprints. The earth was a cathedral, to be left untouched to accommodate the “coming faces”.
Then another people arrived.
Then their religion came.
And they eventually built buildings where terrible things were done to the children of the tribes. Then their children’s children were also taken away. And soon what they were once taken away from, barely existed.
And now, we are left with a legacy. A way of life has been mostly destroyed. So we are starting to tell our children about residential schools. Our First Nations are just getting back on their feet. The nightmares of the dead in their forgotten resting grounds will continue, but maybe the healing can also finally start.
Only if all of us help restore whatever our Indigenous brothers and sisters lost. Only we can give back what was taken.
The Catholic Church will soon decide what it wants to be in the world being shaped by a new generation. Perhaps it has leaders who are young and understand what their forebearers don’t. They might look to the teachings of Augustine. Had he met the people who lived here while he was searching for meaning, the great Saint might have found many of the answers he was always looking for.
Richard Wagamese (Image from Facebook)
The late Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese was also a searcher. He wrote, in his final book, One Drum:
“Everywhere around the world people are engaged in ceremony. The ceremonies take many forms. They are borne outward as prayers and songs and petitions in many languages. They are partaken in geographies as diverse as the looks of our physical selves. Around the world humankind shares a deep and resonant yearning for connection with the cosmos, with spirituality, community and the planet. We're all going somewhere. We can feel that. We just don't want to make the journey alone — and we never have. In the primitive times that were our common beginning, we were wanderers. All of us. Every contemporary culture shares this origin. We followed game and other food. We foraged to survive. Every night, fires were lit and everyone gathered around them.
Everyone sat and basked in the flickering light of the flames and the first thing that fire engendered in them was feeling. They felt secure from the hard dark around them. They felt safe in the company of each other. They felt belonging and worth and acceptance. They felt the mystery, the invisible energy of the universe all around them.
It was then that stories were told. The wise ones in their midst, the seers, spun great legends and teaching tales and the people learned that the world and the universe were full and alive and evolving. Out of those great tales came the feeling of mystery, of awe. Later, alone perhaps, standing outside the influence of that fire, one of our ancestors put their head back and scanned the heavens. It would have been a spectacular sight. Free of carbon clouds, the sky would shimmer brilliantly with the light of a million stars. The sense of space would be captivating. The ancestor felt wonder and out of that feeling came the need for ceremony, for rituals to re-create that feeling of wonder within their participants. And the quest for a spiritual life was born. Everywhere. In everyone. Wonder is the gift we share — if we allow it.”
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