By Fr. David Foxen, MSC
Pope Francis has traveled to many parts of the world during his nine years a chief Shepherd of the Church. His recent visit to Canada was unique. He referred to this trip as a penitential pilgrimage. He went in the name of the Church to ask forgiveness for the years, actually centuries, of disrespect and abuse shown to indigenous peoples in the Americas. The focal point was the residential schools in Canada where the government and the Church collaborated to separate indigenous children from their parents and their culture, including their religious traditions. Francis referred to it as cultural genocide.
His purpose was to begin a process of healing. Healing is an essential element of Christ’s mission to build the Kingdom of God. Either as Church or as individuals we cannot go back and reverse the wrong inflicted in the past. But we can acknowledge the harm, accept responsibility, ask forgiveness, and begin an honest process of healing. Many welcomed the apology; some thought what the Holy Father did was not sufficient. But few could doubt the sincerity and honesty of reaching out to begin the process of healing.
In Quebec Francis met with Mary Simon, the Governor General of Canada. She is herself Inuk, a member of the indigenous people who live in far northern Canada above the Arctic Circle. She remarked that in her language, “to heal” is mamisagniqa. It indicates a process, a journey rather than a destination. “It takes time. It begins slowly, softly, carefully. It follows its own path, carrying us forward, but also in many other directions.”
This is a profound insight into what it means to heal and be healed, and it can help us in our own process of healing. Sin wounds the one who suffers evil and the one who is the source of the evil. These wounds call for healing. We see this in the way Christ heals throughout his whole ministry and mission. Those who have been wounded by the sinful actions of others know that healing is very complicated and challenging. Like physical wounds, spiritual and emotional wounds heal only with time and will often leave a scar. But Christ intended that his disciples make healing an essential part of building the Kingdom of God. He gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide them and be able to heal. This is why Francis went to Canada. This is why we also have to try to be sources of healing for those who have been wounded by evil. As pointed out by Governor General Simon, healing is not a destination. It is a journey. It is ongoing and may lead us in many directions. Francis has sown seeds of healing among the indigenous people of the Americas. We cannot say his pilgrimage brought healing to those who have suffered. But the pilgrimage is the beginning, not the end, of a journey. Christ invites us to see healing in our own lives in the same way.