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Sharing Circle: "The Heart of the Event"

Most Rev. Christian Lépine participated in the national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in late April. It was not an official participation in the sense that, although he was present as a dignitary at the opening ceremony, the Archbishop of Montreal made no speeches or official statement.

The even provided him the opportunity to first listen to what the residential school survivors had to say. I met up with him as he emerged from what was said to be a very intense Sharing Circle. "The experience of the residential schools was a part of Canadian history, in which Christian churches and Catholic institutions were involved. So, as a human being, as a Canadian and as a Catholic, I thought it was important to be here to hear these experiences,"

Recognizing What Took Place

The Archbishop was visibly shaken by what he had heard. "You cannot imagine. You should hear the survivors themselves. That's why I came: to listen, to hear, I would say 'to let it register', and be touched with what was experienced. "

According to Most Rev. Lépine, "The brilliant idea" of the TRC is to bring together all parties for reconciliation; churches, Canadians, and the Aboriginal people.  The problems have existed for several decades. It will take some time, "by the grace of God, to reconcile."

And according to him, the Sharing Circle is "the heart of the event, because we hear the Aboriginals speaking in their own words, relating their experiences."

A comment heard at the meeting still resonates with the Archbishop:  They took me away from my parents!  "It's very powerful", the Archbishop related. "For me, it is very difficult to comprehend that we systematically ripped generation to generation, children from their parents, often starting at the age of 5, some as early as 3 years old. It boggles the mind that such a thing took place.  The least we can do is to recognize that it happened."

Courage and humility

Most Rev. Lépine was struck by the humility and the courage of the survivors who told their stories. "I am struck by their humility because it is not easy to talk about such a private traumatic event. It takes courage," adding: "I am in awe them. They truly seek reconciliation and are ready to take the step of speaking out".

However, it requires the participation of all parties for true reconciliation. Is it possible that brothers, priests, nuns and former residents can come together in order to heal?

"There is a parallel to the TRC process called ''Returning to Spirit," says Most Rev. Lépine. "Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people are first called to follow an approach separately. Then, in another step, they are called to come together and share." Begun in the west, this approach is currently in the process of being translated into French.

Archbishop Lépine believes there is possible solution. There must be direction for the healing accompanied by follow up. "Because these are very sensitive issues, because there are a lot of injuries. So we must support them."

But the question still resonates in his mind:  How did these "dedicated" missionaries and other religious personnel find themselves in such a compromised system, considering their vocations? "From personal experience, I believe in the generosity of those who were involved, but at the same time, something incomprehensible happened ... it remains a mystery."

The Archbishop of Montreal admires "the confidence the Aboriginal people have shown by starting the process" of sharing their experiences, like a hand reaching out. "They offer us the baton. They are the ones taking the initiative.  It's their idea. And we, where are we in the process? How can we respond to this approach? ", asked Most Rev. Lépine.

How should the 'white Catholics' react to what is said to the TRC? "I would just simply say: take the time to listen, to hear it, and let it register. Be conscious of their experiences and learn. Focus on the strengths of this approach, not on the guilt or on blame. From what I gather, the purpose is to raise awareness of the suffering experienced:  We cannot ignore that," concluded the Archbishop of Montreal.


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