One year on from Pope Francis’s Apostolic Journey to Canada, Bishop Raymond Poisson, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, reflects on the progress that has been made in the process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
By Francesca Merlo
A year ago, Pope Francis made his Apostolic Journey to Canada. It was a six-day “penitential pilgrimage” to encourage reconciliation between the Catholic Church and Indigenous peoples, following the dark period of residential schools in the 19th and 20th centuries.
One year on, there has been significant progress in improving relations, according Bishop Raymond Poisson.
A new chapter
A new chapter has opened in the history of Canada, even if the painful page of the residential schools will not disappear.
The process of reconciliation between indigenous peoples and the Catholic Church had already begun before the Pontiff’s apostolic visit, when Pope Francis received a delegation – made up of three Métis, Inuit and First Nations groups – at the Vatican from 28 March to 1 April 2022.
To mark one year since the Pope’s visit to Canada, Bishop Poisson, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Canada spoke to Vatican News’ Jean-Charles Putzolu to describe the process, and the progress, of reconsibiliation.
“Reconciliation is not something that happens at one moment in time,” Bishop Poisson said. “It is a process of developing a relationship.”
The Pope’s visit, Bishop Poisson recalled, was an important part of this process and “gave the Catholic Church and Canadian society as a whole the impetus to continue the discussion and to work together to bring about change.”
The statement on doctrine of discovery
One of the most important results of the visit according to Bishop Poisson was the statement on the doctrine of discovery that was issued by the Holy See in March of 2023.
The statement, issued by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, acknowledged that the doctrine has been used to justify the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and their lands and reflected on the history of the doctrine and its impact on Indigenous peoples.
“The statement is not the end of the conversation,” Bishop Poisson pointed out, stressing that it is an important part of an ongoing discussion. “We need to continue to talk about what these things mean and to work together to walk the path towards reconciliation.”
Bishop Poisson also recalled the image of Pope Francis at the end of his five-day journey to Canada.
“He was exhausted, but he had taken considerably more time with survivors than had been planned. He was personally committed to this issue, and it really matters to him.”
A deeeply committed Pope
“When he came out of that contact with people,” Bishop Poisson said, “I think it really deepened his commitment.”
Bishop Poisson concluded by saying that there is still much work to be done, but that the process of reconciliation is moving forward. “We are committed to walking this path together,” he said.