Papal Apology Pilgrimage – One Woman’s Story

“What I would like to hear from the Pope would be an apology for what the Roman Catholic Church did through the residential schools.”

As many across Turtle Island anticipate Pope Francis’ arrival in Canada in a few days’ time, retired Anglican Bishop Barbara White Andrews wants to witness the promised apology personally — for herself, for her ancestors, for those who have died unable to hear such an apology, and for the benefit of future generations.

Raised Roman Catholic and schooled by the Grey Nuns, she is now Anglican — she was the first Indigenous woman to be consecrated a Bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada. Her faith community roots, her own family history as the child of a survivor of the schools (her father was sent to the Ermineskin Residential School at Maskwacis as were her three brothers at different times), all these occurrences fuel her passion for healing and reconciliation. These influences combine forcefully to call her on a very personal pilgrimage in just a few days’ time.

After a lifetime of unpaid Lay Ministry Barbara was ordained priest in 1997. Ministry in Winnipeg included parish work and ecumenical street ministry, followed by some years as the Director of the Sorrento Centre. Consecrated Bishop in 2009, her episcopal ministry shepherded the BC interior church through to its current constitution as the Territory of the People. She retired from episcopal ministry in 2020.

She is a member of the  Enoch Maskekosihk Cree Nation (IR#440 in Treaty 6 territory). Her grandmother was a member of and lived on the Papaschase Reserve. ““When I first heard the Pope was coming to Ermineskin and to the Lac Ste Anne pilgrimage site, I felt profoundly called to go and be a witness to the ceremonies. It is a personal journey for me, but also a part of my ministry of reconciliation.”

The second event will be at Lac St. Anne, a historic pilgrimage site where the Roman Catholic Church has been present for over 123 years. It is an important place for Barbara because; her father, mother and brothers are buried nearby. Her father met there many summers with his family for many years. “The first apologies will be on the lands of my ancestors. I can be one of the first witnesses, to bring home the story, and maybe help others in my family and others in my ministry as well.”

Bishop Barbara has made healing and reconciliation part of her ministry for decades, particularly while Bishop of the Territory of the People. She has studied reconciliation and taught its history and practice. Family, history, ministry and practice come together in this significant event.

Bishop Barbara was initially reluctant to seek admission to the ceremonies. There are so many others who need to be there; but her connection to the sites, and to the ministry of reconciliation are many and strong. She knows there are many who have not lived long enough to hear the Pope’s words[D1] . There are many unable to travel given illness or incapacity. Thousands of people however can and will attend, hoping to hear not only words of apology but real commitment to ongoing reconciliation work, which could include a variety of initiatives including reparations. Words are one thing; specific relationship building is another. The work is difficult; the work is both essential and urgent.

“I want to bear witness for those who won’t hear the apology. I have concern for the next generation. I have seen and felt the effects of intergenerational trauma myself. I am concerned for future generations, including that of my children and of my grand-daughter Leah.”

With the assistance of Kathie Gray, Barbara has created a traditional woman’s ribbon skirt. In colours of orange and purple and covered with feathers, with different ribbons on the bottom, such dresses are worn by women for funerals and important events. She will not wear a Bishop’s clerical shirt, but will wear an orange Every Child Matters T-shirt.

Asked if she will feel like an outsider she said: “I don’t feel like an outsider. As a Roman Catholic who still practices Ignatian prayer rituals, I chose to become an Anglican to welcome a call to serve God through orders. I am deeply aware of the spiritual harm many of our people carry as a result of the distortion of the Gospel message of equality, acceptance and love. My own history tells the story of I experiencing this harm first hand.

Asked what a satisfactory apology might look like she said: “I hope he will rescind the Papal Bull, the so-called Doctrine of Discovery. This doctrine gave European explorers and their sponsoring nations the legal right to seize territory based on the assumption that there were no persons there. Literally, the land was considered empty (Terra Nullius). So first come, first served, first claimed, first occupied. For Barbara “the Catholic Church indicating an intent to rescind that bull would be a big sign. That would send a message not only to Canadians but to the world that the Roman Catholic Church is willing to face its own legacy through actions and not simply words.”

Barbara hopes and prays that we are in a time of (re)entering the wisdom and teaching of Jesus. Beyond the physical, sexual, and cultural abuse, it is time to acknowledge the spiritual abuse perpetrated by the Churches. To be told over and over again that your understanding of Creator and Creation are all wrong, to be told that all your experiences of Spirit are unwelcome and wrong, to have your spiritual sensibility stripped away is breathtakingly evil.

A highlight of the 2019 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada was an Apology for Spiritual Harm to Indigenous Persons given by the Primate the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz. The primate’s apology followed other historic apologies for abuse in and through residential schools, first by the Bishop of Cariboo, the Right Rev. Jim Cruikshank at Lytton BC in 1992, and later by Archbishop Michael Peers in 1993. The 2019 apology went further, in apologizing for the systemic spiritual abuse which underlay the structural, physical and sexual abuse perpetuated for generations. The apology reads in part:

“I confess our sin in robbing your children and youth of the opportunity to know their spiritual ancestry and the great wealth of its wisdom and guidance for living in a good way with the Creator, the land and all peoples.”

Archdeacon Travis Enright (Metis) from the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton notes that we are entering a time of wisdom. We can choose to “journey in living the right ways with our neighbours. In the western way of being you can have the knowledge but not know how to use it. In the Cree tradition, the one who lives closest to the land, the one who is in best relation with their neighbours, they are the wisest. Wisdom is gleaned from learning to live generously and compassionately with and for our neighbours.”

May the Creator help us all to find courage and love as the reconciling journey and truth-telling continue. All my relations.

For additional background around hopes and expectations go here. This is the first of at least two articles.

2 thoughts on “Papal Apology Pilgrimage – One Woman’s Story

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  1. Thank you for this, Ken. It was an honour to have known +Barbara as a colleague if only for a short time. Her strength, courage and determination in the work of healing and reconciliation is a gift to the Church and the world. My prayers for her and all the survivors as they participate in their traditional ceremonies.
    The Rev’d Katherine Loynd

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  2. Pope Francis recently kissing the hand of the indigenous residential-school survivor, assuming it was a genuinely heartfelt act, was for me both moving and significant.

    Though I’m not a fan of Catholicism nor the pope, the image somewhat brought to mind how the Biblical Jesus most profoundly washed his disciples’ feet, the act clearly revealing that he took corporeal form to serve. And that he, as a hopeful example of the humility of the divine, joined humankind in our miseries, joys and everything in between.

    Regardless, many indigenous people have learned the hardest way about being considered disposable and likely feel the pope’s hand-kiss definitely will not suffice.

    Human beings can be consciously/subconsciously (mis)perceived and (mis)treated as though they are disposable and, by extension, their suffering and death are somehow less worthy of external concern, even by otherwise relatively civilized countries and their religious institutions.

    Along with the inhuman(e) treatment they suffered while living in the religious residential schools, the immense inhumanity is also evident with the many indigenous children who were deemed unworthy even to be buried in properly marked graves by Christ’s supposed messengers, let alone their remains returned to their indigenous families. [Jesus must be spinning.]

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