Pope Francis toured Canada to make public an apology to the Indigenous People whose ancestors were abducted and abused as children by leaders of the Roman Catholic church. The children were taken from their families to make them “Christian”, teach them English, and beat the Indian out of them. The gospel is supposed to be good news, but for much of the Church’s history, the gospel has been twisted and coopted by people more interested in domination of people not like them and exploitation of resources, rather than being friends of Christ and servants.
There are people who think the Pope’s apology tour is just for show, or unnecessary. After all, the Pope didn’t personally abduct and abuse the children of First Nation People of what we call Canada. Perhaps they never heard these words from Rabbi Abraham Heschel when he spoke about racism and slavery in the United States: “Few are guilty; all are responsible.” As the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis understands his responsibility, and so, from a place of humility, travelled far from the comforts of his current home to say, “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.”
He apologized and begged forgiveness for the Catholic Church’s cooperation with Canada’s “catastrophic” policy of Indigenous residential schools. These schools were in operation through the 1970s. The Pope recognized that the forced assimilation of Native peoples into Christian society destroyed their cultures, severed families, and marginalized generations in ways still being felt today. (NPR, 7-25-22)
Pope Francis was received with equanimity and grace. One person said, “Sorry is not going to make what happened go away. But it means a lot to the elders.” For over 200 years, the people who first lived on the North American continent have had their reality ignored and dismissed. They have been disregarded and disrespected. Pope Francis took action to begin the process of healing, made necessary by the actions of a church he leads. It is the first and necessary step toward reconciliation.
Reconciliation is a ministry for which all Christians have responsibility. While I am not personally responsible for slavery and its legacy, I am responsible for healing the division it still causes. I am responsible for recognizing the pain racism has caused and the pain it still inflicts, to see my brothers and sisters in their pain and say, “I see you. Your experience is real. I recognize this.”
I’m told our family has an ancestor who served in the Union Army and another who was a Quaker (Quakers were anti-slavery.) I also know that a lot of family came from and still lives in southern Indiana, where the KKK was extremely active. I would not be surprised that some of my ancestors participated in the nefarious crimes of the KKK.
Instead of getting hung up on, “Well, I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault,” could those of us who are white put on the cloak of humility and compassion and ponder, “What would be good news for my brothers and sisters who continue to live in a world, a society that stereotypes them, dismisses them, and disregards the daily grind of racism in their lives?”
White Christian culture perpetrated many atrocities in the name of God and Jesus. It is a hard reckoning and an uncomfortable one, but the ministry of reconciliation to which we are called asks nothing less of us than to pick up the mantle of humility and compassion, listen, learn, and recognize a pain and experience that for those of us who are white, we just don’t know. May we have courage to listen and be humble of heart for the sake of God’s compassion made known in us and through us.