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Continue reflecting on pope's message, says Saskatoon bishop

Giving the pope a headdress drew mixed reactions from Indigenous communities.
Bishop Mark Hagemoen 2
Diocese of Saskatoon bishop Mark Hagemoen, right, listens as Fr. Clement Arthur, pastor of St. Peter the Apostle parish makes announcements after presiding over the administering of the sacrament of confirmation.

SASKATOON — Bishop Mark Hagemoen says he believes reflecting on the message of Pope Francis’s visit to Canada should continue as the healing and reconciliation journey continues for everyone affected by the residential school system.

Pope Francis made a pilgrimage of penance from July 24 to 29 to ask forgiveness for the sins committed by church members toward First Nation, Inuit and Métis children. The pontiff visited Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit to meet survivors and Indigenous leaders.

He apologized for the Catholic church’s role in the harm done to Indigenous children and their communities, the same gesture he made when he met with their representatives and other delegates separately in the Vatican last April.

Hagemoen, who heads the Saskatoon diocese and accompanied a group of survivors from the city that attended the events in Edmonton, said the journey toward healing and reconciliation will be long as it affects many people.

“I would say, the experience of the pilgrimage of penance that I and others are still kind of reflecting on. It was very full and rich and a lot went on … Many of the Indigenous leaders spoke of this as an important part and essential step in a long journey,” Hagemoen told SASKTODAY.

“They didn’t say the journey is short. Reconciliation and healing mean many things for various individuals and groups. This was an essential and crucial step in the reconciliation process. We will be on this journey for a long time.”

However, he added that reactions to the gesture of the pope were mixed, with some feeling a sense of relief while others said it is still lacking, as people deal with their journey toward healing and reconciliation on their terms.

“What I've heard from some of the survivors that I journeyed with and some of the Indigenous leaders is this was a very important step that people were very grateful for. I think they were meant for some and not meant for others,” said Hagemoen.

“I heard some say to me, ‘I felt the Pope was speaking to me and for me, I needed to hear that [apology] and I can move forward.’ Some say they didn’t hear what they needed and they needed to hear more. I didn’t hear that directly rather it was what I picked up in media reports. So, I think people are in different places regarding what they heard, directly from the Pope.”

He said that despite the different feedback there was still a general sense among the leaders that the pilgrimage of penance made by the Pope was a significant step toward healing and reconciliation.

“I think there's a general sense that this [apology and papal visit] was a very important step and they [Indigenous leaders] appreciated that step and needed to happen. They are grateful that it did happen. There’s a lot of different feedback and we’re experiencing that with everything that followed,” said Hagemoen.

“One example is the reaction to the sharing of the headdress by Chief Wilton Littlechild with the Holy Father. I was in a group that meant a lot to them because the headdress is an important and treasured cultural symbol that the Holy Father not only was offered but received humbly. That meant a lot to some survivors that I was with and a couple of the [Indigenous] leaders.”

He added that the gesture also received mixed reactions based on what he read and saw from media reports.

“There were many reactions from different leaders and I'm sure it's still unfolding, as people not only deal with what they experience but also reflect on what was said and shared.”

Pope Francis made his pilgrimage of penance from July 24 to 29, after being invited by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and also as a gesture to ask forgiveness to those survivors who were not part of the delegation whom he met in the Vatican last April.