A priest with indigenous roots becomes the symbol of the Pope’s trip to Canada

KRAKOW, Poland — As Pope Francis crosses the Atlantic today to land in Edmonton to begin his symbolic Canadian journey, there is a priest who has become a symbol of the journey before it even begins. Her paternal grandmother was a survivor of the now infamous church-run boarding schools, where revelations of abuse rocked the country.

A member of the Cree-Métis people by his father while his mother was Italian, Father Cristino Bouvette was chosen to act as a bridge between the Vatican and the First Nations of Canada. He is national liturgical coordinator for the Pope’s visit, and his life motto could be the same as that of the trip – “Walking together”.

Few people feel so comfortable in the halls of the Vatican and sitting around a fire with elders.

“If I can have, as they say, one foot in both worlds, I hope that also sets an example for everyone that if it’s possible inside one man, it can be possible. for all of us,” Bouvette said. “Reconciliation is already happening. It’s not something new and it’s not something that will start because the pope came”.

In fact, Bouvette had been living it for a long time. His own kokum – which means “grandmother” in the Cree language – was a survivor of a residential school run by Protestant ministers.

“She had been there for 12 years. She never spoke to me in detail about the specific elements of this [time] what she found most difficult or painful. But I know it was mostly because of the separation from his family for a long part of the year,” Bouvette told Polish television.

For many survivors, the residential school education left a lifelong mark, including an inability to love and be loved.

“They say that because of their separation from their parents, they haven’t learned to be good parents themselves. And I understand why that would be the case,” Bouvette said, while insisting that it was not his grandmother’s fate.

“She had 14 children. And for them to love and respect her the way they did, I think all her life she must have been a really wonderful and remarkable mother. She was a wonderful and beautiful person.”

His faith, says Bouvette, was one of the most important parts of his life: “it wasn’t imposed on him by school. It was a gift, an inheritance from the heritage of his family, because there were already three generations of Christians in his family”.

Bouvette’s grandmother was never Catholic. The school she attended was run by a Protestant denomination in Canada, and she remained a member until middle age.

“My father chose to become Catholic when he married my Italian mother, who was, of course, very Catholic,” he said.

When his grandmother learned that he was becoming a Catholic priest, she said to him: “I have also known good nuns and good priests, and I know that you would be one of them” – words which, says he, give him great strength for this. daytime.

She didn’t live long enough to see her grandson organize a papal reconciliation trip to Canada, but he considers the role to be something symbolic and special.

“I don’t want to sound overly dramatic,” Bouvette said, “but in a way, I hope I’m the embodiment of the work I’m trying to do.”

“I try to be a bridge between two worlds, the Vatican and all of its structure and protocols, and the indigenous peoples who in many ways don’t have that kind of structure or live by such rigor. But they have their protocols, they have their traditions. And to bring these two worlds closer, it can sometimes be complicated. But I feel very comfortable in both”.

Bouvette pointed out that “walking together” in a pilgrimage means that “other pilgrims have gone before you and other pilgrims will come after”. The pope “comes therefore to participate in something that has already begun and is already being lived in our country, but he will give us a new way and a new example to try to live it better”.

The trip to Canada will last 5 days, until July 29e, beginning in Edmonton in Western Canada where most of the residential schools were located. Then it will fly to the East Coast to visit Quebec before ending in the arctic lands of Iqaluit, homeland of the Inuit.

One of the most symbolic moments of the trip will be a welcome ceremony at the Muscogee Nation site, Bouvette said.

In the Cree language, they call this place Bear Hills because muskoka means bear and damn it means hills.

The pope will be seated “in the circle they have for their pow-wow,” Bouvette said There will be “the entry of all the chiefs of the different nations dressed in their regalia with music and traditional dances, advancing “, all to welcome the pope, adds the priest.

In fact, the pope “is also recognized as a leader”, he points out, adding: “It will be, I think, very moving for him and for the whole world to see the beauty and the richness of a culture which, although there have been efforts to eliminate it, has not disappeared and is still present for us and able to share its beauty with us.

150,000 Indigenous children were placed in residential schools, many of them taken from their families by the government, while others were sent away by parents who felt there was no other choice. For Bouvette, it’s a story that marked his family for generations.

“I can speak Italian. I received the language from my grandparents who immigrated to this country and passed on their culture and their language for two generations. But my other grandmother, whose family has always been here and who spoke the cry in her childhood, did not pass on this language to her because she lost it. How can we account for it? This is the kind of suffering that has been caused.

Bouvette hopes that the Pope’s trip says that we are not hiding from this story. We are not claiming that this did not happen”.

He also hopes for greater unity – the trip was not organized because “a few leaders spoke to a few cardinals in the Vatican, and we had a papal visit”. It took “hundreds and hundreds of non-Indigenous people in Canada to volunteer more hours of their lives than they probably thought they had to volunteer to make all of this happen. It’s remarkable and beautiful,” he said.

“We are all invited to become neighbors to each other in this country, to see each other as neighbors, because we share this land together and we can live in harmony and unity if we try,” he said. declared.

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