Reconciliation and Healing: The Pope’s visit to Canada

The recent visit of the Pope to Canada was a significant moment in the journey towards reconciliation and healing for the Aboriginal Peoples of the nation. By acknowledging the historical atrocities inflicted upon Indigenous communities through the residential school system, the Pope’s heartfelt apology aimed to address a dark chapter in Canadian history.

These schools, operating from the 19th century until 1996 under the auspices of clergy and the Canadian government, were integral to a plan to convert First Nations children to Christianity and assimilate them into Western ideals. Approximately 150,000 Inuit and Métis children forcibly enrolled in these government-funded and church-administered residential schools endured a tragic legacy. The educators, often ill-equipped for the task, subjected the children to physical and sexual abuse, leading to numerous deaths and the recent discovery of unmarked graves. Beyond the immediate suffering, the removal of children from their biological families had profound and lasting intergenerational effects.

In the ensuing twenty-five years, the Canadian government has tried to confront and acknowledge the grievous impact of this dark chapter in history. As I’ve listened to the personal narratives of First Nation communities on national radio and TV, I’ve gained a profound appreciation for their wisdom and rich cultural heritage.

Commendable Initiatives:

Indigenous peoples have spearheaded various commendable initiatives showcasing their history, art, music, and revitalization efforts for native languages. Notably, the CBC program “Unreserved” has featured insightful radio shows:

Reflecting on these impactful programs, I wish for similar platforms within media outlets like CBC to shed light on the Jewish community. This could serve as a means to acquaint more Canadians with the Jewish people’s traditions, history, and vibrant cultural tapestry.

Shared Trauma: Jewish Perspective on Reconciliation

As a Jew, I deeply empathize with the struggles of the First Nations as they grapple with the devastation wrought upon their communities. Having grown up as the child of parents persecuted in Hungary during World War II solely for being Jewish, I am intimately acquainted with the enduring pain experienced by subsequent generations. My own life has been marked by the trauma inflicted upon my family by Nazi persecution, resulting in the untimely loss of parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. This sorrow unfortunately perpetuates through successive generations.

Jews, too, have been direct victims of colonial policies imposed by Christian rulers. An illustrative example is the Czarist decree of August 26, 1827, which mandated military service for Jews and conscription into Russian Cantonist schools, subjecting Jewish boys as young as eight to twenty-five years of military duty.

All cantonists were institutionally underfed… The official policy was to encourage Jewish boys to convert to the state religion of Orthodox Christianity.

The media’s discourse on the Pope’s apology to the Indigenous community has sparked contemplation. In the post-Holocaust era, the Jewish community has grappled with the significance of apologies for unspeakable horrors. In Rabbinic thinking, the injured party has the prerogative to accept or reject an apology for inflicted pain or damage. Nevertheless, leaders’ acknowledgment, remorse, and appropriate reparations are indispensable for fostering social healing between communities in conflict.

In my lifetime, I witnessed the Catholic Church taking responsibility by renouncing its historical demonization of Jews. This acknowledgment of its contribution to the destruction of Jewish communities over the centuries culminated in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Nostra Aetate,” issued on October 28, 1965. This pivotal declaration, passed by an overwhelming majority of assembled bishops, emphasized the Church’s rejection of hatred, persecution, and antisemitism against Jews, motivated not by political considerations but by the spiritual love espoused in the Gospel.

“… the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shared with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, and displays of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

This marked an essential beginning of reconciliation between Jews and Catholics. Another significant milestone occurred on May 25-26, 2014, when Pope Francis visited Israel, further deepening the evolving relationship between the Catholic Church, Israel, and the Jewish people. Promoting collective mutual understanding and dispelling stereotypes and prejudice are most effectively achieved through grassroots interactions and dialogue.

One noteworthy instance of reconciliation among Christians, Jews, and the Aboriginal People of Canada unfolded during my attendance at a church service in Winnipeg. This unique event, organized by Pastor Rudy Fidel of Faith Church, a steadfast supporter of Jews, Israel, and First Nations, brought together Cantor Moshe Kraus, a Holocaust survivor, two First Nations Chiefs, and a Klezmer band for a Sunday morning service. I was privileged to document this remarkable occasion and am pleased to share highlights with you. The program featured:

Two First Nations Chiefs:

  • From 1:01 to 2:11 minutes, Jim Baird, Chief of Leech Lake of the Ojibwe Nation, introduced Grand Chief Jerry, who was recently elected as the Grand Chief of Thirty-two Nations.
  • From 2:11 to 7:42 minutes, Grand Chief Jerry addressed the audience, providing insights into his community’s current affairs.

Hazzan Moshe Kraus:

  • At 10:32-20:58 min, Cantor Kraus recounted a poignant incident from 1942 in Budapest. At the request of a Hungarian Bishop from Potok, Moshe assisted in securing the release of the Bishop’s colleague and Moshe’s cousin, a Rabbi in Potok, who was incarcerated in Budapest.

In a world scarred by historical injustices and intergenerational trauma, the journey towards reconciliation and healing is a collective endeavor. Past injustices left scars that have been passed down from generation to generation. In order to confront these legacies, society needs to come together and acknowledge the past, promote empathy, and dismantle oppressive systems. Healing involves creating safe spaces for dialogue, investing in mental health resources, and supporting cultural revitalization. Ultimately, only through mutual understanding and collective action can we create a more equitable and compassionate future.

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