Pope’s “penitential pilgrimage” aims to bring healing, hope

Beginning in the heart of the believer, the Holy Spirit can bring about divine renovation, a new creation on all points on the compass of human relations.

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.

The apostolic visit of Pope Francis to Canada during the last week of July was self-described as a “penitential pilgrimage” in the service of forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, hope and new life for the Indigenous Peoples of the First Nations, Metis and Inuit Peoples who suffered greatly in the residential schools throughout Canada for nearly a century and a half. What occurred in these schools was government policies with which the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations collaborated.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard over 7,000 testimonies from former students of residential schools in Canada “that recalled in painful detail the way our language was suppressed, our culture taken from us, our spirituality denigrated and our families torn apart” according to Chief Wilton Littlechild, one of the members of the Commission.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

At the outset of the pilgrimage Pope Francis entered straightforwardly into the caldron of pain that afflicts the memories and the lives of the indigenous today. “The overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic. What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ … I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples. Dear brothers and sisters, many of you have stated that begging pardon is not the end of the matter. I fully agree that it is only the first step, the starting point to assist the survivors of the residential schools to experience healing from the traumas they suffered.”

A constant theme throughout his apostolic visits, homilies and addresses was the reconciling power of the Cross and Resurrection, the only power on earth that can bring about lasting healing and hope in the lives of the victims. “In the face of evil, we pray to the Lord of goodness; in the face of death, we pray to the God of life. Our Lord Jesus Christ took a grave which seemed the burial place of every hope and dream, leaving behind only sorrow, pain and resignation, and made it a place of rebirth and resurrection, the beginning of a history of new life and universal reconciliation. Our own efforts are not enough to achieve healing and reconciliation: we need God’s grace. We need the quiet and powerful wisdom of the Spirit, the tender love of the Comforter … to advance together on our journey.”

The Church of the Sacred Heart of the First Peoples designated in 1991 as Canada’s national indigenous parish is also a point of reference for the Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Croatian and Eritrean communities. On this holy site, Pope Francis reflected that the church is the house of reconciliation for everyone, but most words and deeds of reconciliation take place at the local level, in communities like this where individuals and families travel side by side, day by day. To pray together, to help one another, to share life stories, common joys and common struggles: this is what opens the door to the reconciling work of God.

In proposing that reconciliation is local, Pope Francis embodied the Gospel conviction of St. Paul that all believers are ambassadors for Jesus Christ, and therefore, ministers of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5) Beginning in the heart of the believer, the Holy Spirit can bring about divine renovation, a new creation on all points on the compass of human relations. Beyond Canada and reaching out to the ends of the earth, the Synod on Synodality is the dream of Pope Francis for the church and for the world. Whenever and wherever the church can model and live communion, participation and mission, there will be an overflow that could be a fountain of life, light and love for the world.

During the synod process in our diocese, there was a repeated call for greater unity built upon forgiveness, healing, reconciliation and hope. Whether the source of the brokenness was rooted in personal sin, a diminishment in physical or mental, health, the impact of the pandemic or scandals in the church, divorce, drug overdose or despair, as Pope Francis said in the Church of the Sacred Heart of the First Nation, the universal Catholic Church and each parish and ministry are intended to be a house of reconciliation.

May the Holy Spirit awaken in us the heart and mind of the One who draws us out of darkness into the marvelous light of God’s love.

Bishop schedule

Saturday, Aug. 27, 6 p.m. – LIMEX Awards Ceremony, St. James, Tupelo

Sunday, Aug. 28, 10:30 a.m – Confirmation, St. Elizabeth, Clarksdale

Sunday, Sept. 11, 11 a.m. – Red Mass, St. John, Oxford

Thursday, Sept. 15 – 40th Annual Bishop’s Cup Golf Tournament, Lake Caroline Golf Club, Madison

Saturday, Sept. 17, 4 p.m. – 75th Anniversary Mass, Sacred Heart School Gymnasium, Southaven

Monday, Sept. 19, 6 p.m. – Catholic Charities Journey of Hope Meet & Greet with David Magee, Sal & Mookies, Jackson

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 12 p.m. – Catholic Charities Journey of Hope Luncheon with David Magee, Jackson Convention Complex

All events are subject to change. Check with parishes and schools for further details.