Opening Remarks by CCCB President Archbishop V. James Weisgerber

Wednesday, April 15 2009

News Conference, 15 April 2009,
Offices of the Assembly of First Nations, Ottawa

Pope Benedict XVI is inviting a delegation to go to Rome to meet with him on 29 April 2009. Composed of representatives of Catholic communities in Canada and of the Aboriginal Peoples, the delegates will include Mr. Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and myself as President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Since the earliest European settlements in Canada five centuries ago, there has been a close association between the indigenous people and the Catholic Church. Most of this history has been a wonderful sharing of faith and witness, but there have also been moments of sorrow.

Among the greatest disappointments were the former Indian Residential Schools. Certainly, there were many examples of great dedication in the efforts at the time to provide a good education for indigenous children; this generosity and goodwill involved school staff, including men and women religious from Catholic missionary orders; elders and parents, and the children themselves. At the same time, there were also terrible challenges, including important cultural differences, insufficient government funding, and human failings, and worst of all instances of exploitation and cruelty. From today’s perspective, we are all very conscious of the tragic limitations of the Residential Schools, especially from the perspectives of family life, community values, and cultural heritage.

But even more unfortunate, the sufferings of the indigenous peoples of Canada are not limited to the past nor to the former Residential Schools. Aboriginal Peoples continue to be marginalized and impoverished in our country. Their social, economic and cultural needs are in fact so urgent today, that all Canadians need to make new and sustained efforts to collaborate with indigenous people in order to assure them of respect, acceptance and equality.

Last fall, National Chief Fontaine invited the Catholic Bishops of Canada, and with them all Catholic communities, to join with Aboriginal Peoples in a new partnership. In response, Catholic dioceses, as well as Catholic religious orders, Church organizations and other Catholic agencies are renewing efforts to mobilize their respective communities and forces.

This is a wonderful opportunity in the history of the Church and Aboriginal Peoples. It is a most promising moment for reconciliation, bridge building, renewed partnership and new dialogue.

The Pope is a bridge builder. That is the meaning of the word “Pontiff”. For that reason, he has invited us to visit him in Rome, in a gesture of reconciliation and healing. By accepting this invitation, as representatives of the Catholic Church in Canada and of the First Nations we can show and celebrate our mutual determination for a renewed partnership and a new beginning.

Most Reverend V. James Weisgerber
Archbishop of Winnipeg
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops