TEARS ARE NOT ENOUGH
Weeping has come easily during these long pandemic months: tears of fear, of loneliness, of sorrow, of frustration, of longing … but also tears of joy for all my blessings. I even found myself shedding tears of relief when I received my first COVID vaccination!
Tragically, with the grim news last week of the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, there is yet another cause to weep. I vividly remember watching the heart-rending video testimonies of residential school survivors, released in 2015 as part of the Truth and Reconciliation process, and at that time I naively thought that the “Truth” part was done, and now we could move on. As we pray in our weekly intercessions for the “ongoing Truth and Reconciliation process,” we long to hear Good News of “reconciliation”, but that is still a long way off, as our Indigenous brothers and sisters continue to suffer the after-shocks of the past.
As I walked around town this past week, I was sad, and yet heartened, to see flags at half mast on public buildings. The disgrace of our past can no longer be swept under the carpet. In addition to grieving for all the innocent children who were tossed away, nameless, and buried so callously, I grieve for their families who waited in vain for their sons and daughters to come home. I am grieving for the religious institutions who allowed this to happen in the name of Christianity. It is likely that more horrifying discoveries will be made throughout Canada in the coming months. We pray for their proper identification, for a dignified burial for each child, and healing for their families.
Before I immigrated to Canada, my “knowledge” of Indigenous peoples was through childhood movies such as the Lone Ranger, and other Hollywood fiction. I knew nothing about residential schools or the sixties’ scoop when I arrived, and it wasn’t a topic of conversation that cropped up in everyday life. The shocking truth has gradually become public knowledge over the decades. The love of a parent for their child has to be one of the strongest driving forces which God has given us, and one which compels us to nurture and protect our young. I cannot imagine the agony of the parents whose children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to residential schools, or the fear and suffering of the children living in an alien environment. “Driving the Indian out of the child” meant that they were forced to abandon their culture, and were punished for even speaking their own language.
In 1924 the league of Nations released a Declaration of Rights of the Child, later expanded by the United Nations in 1959. This was signed and ratified by every member country, including Canada. Children’s rights recognize fundamental guarantees to all human beings: the right to life, the non-discrimination principle, the right to dignity through the protection of physical and mental integrity (protection against slavery, torture and bad treatments etc.). I wonder, how could a government who had signed this declaration have allowed this to happen? How could a Church which preached love and justice have condoned this?
As we reel collectively as a nation, this is definitely a time to mourn, even as we brace ourselves for what lies ahead; for what truths are yet to be uncovered. But this is also a time to take the necessary, yet difficult, steps of reconciliation and healing, and to plant new seeds of love for our Indigenous peoples.
In his book One Drum, Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese, describes asking an Elder how to make the world a better place. “This is how you change the world,” she said, tossing a pebble into the water. They watched the ripples spread out from the splash, and towards the shore. “The smallest circles first.” So, for now, our grief is the pebble landing in the water. With prayer, love, and commitment, we can slowly move outwards like the ripples on the water, towards forgiveness and reconciliation.
Creator God we acknowledge and give thanks that:
In Jesus we know we belong to a Sacred Circle with the Gospel and Baptismal Covenant in the Centre.
In this Sacred Circle: We are all related; We live a compassionate and generous life; We respect all life, traditions and resources; We commit ourselves to spiritual growth, discipleship, and consensus.
(Rule of Life from the Disciples’ Prayer)