News Release

What the Pope’s Visit to Canada Taught Latter-day Saints About ‘Walking Together’

Canadian members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints watched with interest as Pope Francis made a pastoral visit to Canada July 24–29, 2022. This historic visit was an important moment for the Pope to provide pastoral care to the Catholic community in Canada and “to listen and dialogue with Indigenous Peoples, … and to address the impact of colonization and the participation of the Catholic Church in the operation of residential schools throughout Canada” (“Healing and Restoration: An Historic Journey”).

Canada Newsroom invited several Latter-day Saints to reflect on the papal visit and to share what they have learned about “Walking Together,” the theme of the Pope’s visit.

Spirit of Reconciliation

Anne Wildcat, a Latter-day Saint and a member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alberta, was part of the planning committee for the papal visit to Maskwacis. Wildcat said, “It was a huge honour that Pope Francis chose my home First Nation to offer the apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church to Indian residential and Indian day school survivors. The Ermineskin Indian Residential School was one of the largest residential schools in Canada. My heart is full of gratitude and humility for the sacrifices of those I worked with in preparing for the papal visit in Maskwacis at the local, provincial and national level and with the Vatican.”

Wildcat further explained, “My hope is that mainstream educators in Canada and the United States become more aware of the histories of their local Indigenous nations, both the dark and beautiful aspects of the numerous Indigenous cultures. May we all embrace the spirit of reconciliation, … love and forgiveness.”

Spirit of Healing

Eileen Bell, social media director for the Church’s Canada Communication Council, covered the event professionally as a long-standing radio journalist. She shared, “As a journalist for over 40 years, the opportunity to cover Pope Francis’ visit to Alberta was a bucket-list goal for me. I’ve admired his positions and gentleness since he became Pope and was looking forward to seeing him in person. The day he arrived in Canada, he appeared very fragile. After a more than 10-hour-long flight from Rome, the 85-year-old man had to be almost lifted from his wheelchair to another chair. I worried how the rigorous schedule of the next few days would affect him.”

Bell continued, “The next day, I was part of the media contingent in Maskwacis, where Pope Francis gave his apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential schools. He was able to stand and speak with a strong voice, and I remembered thinking how God was bearing him up to bring comfort to those who had come in search of healing. While not everyone who listened felt the Pope’s words addressed the issue completely, the ones who did feel comfort left with a start towards closure on that tragic part of their history. I could only think how the Lord [Jesus Christ] was helping [the Pope] bring that to them.”

Spirit of Service and Love

Don Jaffray, Latter-day Saint interfaith and outreach specialist in Edmonton, Alberta, volunteered during the papal visit. He helped to co-ordinate over 150 volunteers at three Alberta events held over two days: the papal visit to Maskwacis on July 25, 2022; the pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne on June 26, 2022; and the outdoor mass in Edmonton on July 26, 2022.

Jaffray said, “As interfaith relationships leader for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in northern Alberta, I saw the papal visit as an opportunity to help. [Applying] the theme of the visit, ‘Walking Together,’ will take all our efforts. Words cannot express my gratitude to all those who helped make this week of healing easier for our Catholic and Indigenous friends.”

Jaffray emphasized, “The Pope’s visit reminded me that serving our neighbours matters. When we reach out in love, it builds community, softens hearts and helps us to really see each other as children of God.”

Jan Oviatt, a Latter-day Saint volunteer, thought the theme of the visit was inspired and an invitation for all to move forward together. As a volunteer at the Lac St. Anne pilgrimage service, Oviatt said, “I was assigned to sit on the front row and reserve seats for the attending chiefs. I spoke with many Indigenous people while sitting there.”

Oviatt was touched by not only the many stories she heard of suffering but also the stories of love. She said, “One sweet elderly lady described how life at the [residential] school had been terrible; however, she said she was looking forward to the Pope’s visit because he wasn’t the cause of the situation, and he loved the Lord [Jesus Christ] just like she did.”

In one conversation with a chief, Oviatt asked him about his headdress and learned that he had designed it himself. He explained that the flowers on the sides were for his grandmother, whom he loved and who had raised him.

Oviatt was also moved by her conversation with Alfred W. Joseph, who delivered the closing prayer at the Lac St. Anne service. “He showed me his prayer book, written in his language,” Oviatt said. “He was proud of his book. He told me he was a survivor, too, and that he had vowed at an early age to live a clean, wholesome life and be a good person.”

Oviatt added, “‘Walking Together’ was an experience I will always cherish. I saw how it is possible for many wonderful people, regardless of race, colour or religion, to come together to worship, to heal, to help one another and to make life better for all.”

Elder John N. Craig, Area Seventy responsible for the North America Central Area, Winnipeg and Edmonton Co-ordinating Councils, said, “My heart was touched as I watched our members in the Edmonton area respond to an invitation to serve alongside our Catholic friends and friends of many other faiths. The Pope’s visit reminded me of the truth that people of all races, nations and backgrounds are of equal dignity and worth in the eyes of God and in Christ’s Church.”

Spirit of Learning

Ken Sisler, assistant communication director in the Barrie Ontario Stake, said, “Growing up in Ontario in the 1950s and 1960s, I never heard of residential schools and what happened there. About 10 years ago, I first started hearing about [them] when survivors of these schools came forward and told their stories to the public. The message of Pope Francis to Canada was one of apology, seeking forgiveness and working towards reconciliation. These messages should strike a chord with all Canadians.”

Sisler added, “The visit of Pope Francis has made me think of my own life when it comes to apologies, forgiveness and reconciliation. I need to work on these three areas. After the papal visit, I have been reflecting on Canada’s history and the need for me to learn more about the story of residential schools. I was also moved to donate to the Healing and Reconciliation Fund of my local archdiocese in Toronto. This is just one small way I can continue ‘Walking Together.’”

Spirit of Unity and Strength

Karen Shirley, a Métis woman and Canada Communication Council channel co-ordinator for the Church, remarked, “Pope Francis’s visit to Canada has been an important marker for a significant number of Indigenous people. [As] I watched portions of the media coverage, I can say I truly admire the efforts [the Pope] expended (especially in his obviously fragile condition) to meet, listen and try to understand the enormity of the past hurts. The symbolic and practical step he took towards truth and reconciliation will hopefully become exemplary and a model for others. I have been reminded that repentance is a process and that forgiveness takes time. … ‘Repentance’ and ‘reconciliation’ are two words encouraging us to travel a new road together. With determined effort, we can learn to understand each other and walk that road and live in a good way. I have no doubt that travelling a new, favourable road in Canada is going to require everyone’s best efforts.”

Spirit of Hope for the Future

Liu Lafontaine, Regina Saskatchewan Stake communication director, witnessed the papal apology on July 25, 2022, at Maskwacis First Nation. She rode on a bus from Saskatchewan with survivors, their supporters, family members, Catholic sisters and an archbishop to attend the event.

Lafontaine said, “What surprised me that day, was the large presence of the youth, the future generation, the ones who will continue to face challenges. They were there to support their family members and culture. My own children, whose great-great-grandparents and family members attended residential schools, … can learn from this apology, learn how to acknowledge their mistakes, how to overcome challenges and how to walk together with family and friends of different faiths and cultures.”

On the final leg of the papal visit, during his stop in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Pope Francis said, “We are here with the desire to pursue together a journey of healing and reconciliation that, with the help of the Creator, can help us shed light on what happened and move beyond that dark past” (“Pope Francis, in Iqaluit, Condemns Residential Schools, Calls on Youth to ‘Come to the Light’ of Christ”).

President Russell M. Nelson shared a similar thought at the Be One celebration in June 2018 when he said, “It is my prayer and blessing that I leave upon all who are listening that we may overcome any burdens of prejudice and walk uprightly with God — and with one another — in perfect peace and harmony” (“Building Bridges,” New Era, August 2018).

Read the story in French

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