I remember the day a girl about my height with jet black hair bounded up my driveway asking to play. I was about five years old and shy. Lori was a high energy, outgoing six-year-old and we quickly became friends. For the next three years we had adventures, playing hide and seek and other childhood pastimes, sometimes getting into mischief together.
In upper elementary, I remember finding out that the reason Lori acted differently is because she had fetal alcohol syndrome. But as young children that difference never factored in, in fact, in my eyes she was exciting and fun to be around.
Knowing Lori was a gift I received early in my life. I’ve carried the memories we made together with me ever since. And I carried her in my heart as I made the pilgrimage from my home in Calgary to Edmonton for the Papal Mass on July 26, 2022.
I prayed for Lori, one of my first best friends, an Indigenous girl who was innocently sentenced to a life clouded by the effects of a preventable syndrome. Lori was adopted and while she never attended residential school, it’s likely someone from her family tree had spent time at one of these schools. To me, her situation is an example from my own lived experience of the repercussions of residential schools felt through the generations.
When we arrived at Commonwealth Stadium, the first thing we did was take a family photo to remember our family pilgrimage as we will continue to unpack its significance in the years to come.
Next we found our seats, and while waiting for the Papal Mass to begin I noticed four middle-aged women sitting behind me wearing Every Child Matters orange and black t-shirts. Among them was Kelly Spooner who was not herself Indigenous, but came to honour the memory of her uncle (through marriage) who died in 2019 and attended residential school for six years.
“I came for strength and to renew my spirit. It’s a part of history today,” said Kelly Spooner.
Not long after, the Pope rode around the stadium greeting the crowd. Kelly ran down to the front gate to get a closer look. After he passed by she came back in tears, saying “I’m so happy he’s here.”
As the pre-Mass program was wrapping up, emcee Janelle Reinhardt asked the crowd to keep a prayerful silence.
“The stadium truly became silent, it was powerful and profound, you could only hear the humming of the buildings. It was impressive in a crowd so large,” said Amber Franco, reflecting on this poignant moment. She drove from Calgary to Edmonton with her husband Mike and seven children.
Calgary Bishop William McGrattan also took note of the prayerful atmosphere as he looked up into the crowd from ground level.
“When we entered in the procession for Mass and I saw the number of people on the field and in the stands you had this sense of the presence of Christ in those who had gathered to be with the Holy Father,” said Bishop McGrattan.
The Papal Mass was celebrated on the feast of St. Joachim and St. Anne – the grandparents of Jesus. Pope Francis used this opportunity to speak about the importance of grandparents and family cohesion during his homily.
“This message was simple, but one that everyone could receive and appreciate,” said Bishop McGrattan. “The message of a pastor who himself was advanced in age and not afraid to show the signs of declining mobility, and the need for assistance, which is experienced in every family.”
Like any good pilgrimage, there are challenging moments and as we sat in the bleachers listening to Pope Francis our children began to get a bit restless in the blistering heat. I turned my own discomfort into a small offering toward reconciliation, all the while my heart growing in gratitude for the heroic effort of our 85-year-old pontiff.
I thought this was a generous gesture toward reconciliation simply by showing up and “taking the heat” with us in every sense of the phrase. But I was also humbled by the elders some 80 years and up who had made the pilgrimage from various parts of the country also suffering their own discomforts in an attempt to heal and move forward.
My own father Deacon Richard Loftson accompanied a group of Indigenous pilgrims from Manitoba on behalf of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface. He ministers to the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Indigenous Parish in Winnipeg.
“They were thankful for the apology. They were emotional, in tears many of them. They had been waiting for so long,” said Deacon Loftson.
Bishop McGrattan also sought feedback as he encountered people affected by residential schools.
“In talking to some survivors at the various events, it was difficult for some to hear and relive these memories. For others, there was a sense of recognition that they were listened to by Pope Francis and that his words and actions were genuine in their eyes,” said Bishop McGrattan.
Like many things, the future lies with the children in hopes they will learn from history and build a more just and merciful society where no child will ever again suffer the consequences of being forced to leave their family and lose their culture and heritage.
This is why our friends Alissa and Konrad Paley of Calgary also made the pilgrimage with their three young daughters (six years and under) to the Papal Mass with the same intention as our family: to build a culture of goodwill and reconciliation in their home.
“Participating in this particular Papal Mass was really important as a Catholic and a Canadian,” said Alissa Paley. “The Church is made up of the people, we are the people of the Church. In order for the Church to work towards reconciliation we must show up.”
“I was honoured to bring my daughters with me. I know that they currently don’t understand the gravity of this event, but I hope as they grow up they may continue to pray for the journey toward reconciliation in this country.”
My thoughts have turned toward the child during this pilgrimage. Just like my friend Lori who did nothing to deserve the circumstances she inherited as a child, neither did I deserve the family and opportunities I have been afforded. Everything is a gift. In gratitude, I left Edmonton pondering how I can use the time I have left to seek holiness by laying down my life for my friends.
== More photos from our Diocesan families during the Papal Mass (click "all comments")
Let us minister together to ensure no one lives in isolation and loneliness. This Sunday, July 24, we invite you to take a step forward in co-creating compassionate communities that see relationship and accompaniment with the elderly and grandparents as a normal part of family, neighbourhood, parish, and communal life.
"Remember that you are the custodians of beauty in the world.” says Pope Benedict XVI is his address to Artists.
The Sacred Arts Guild of Alberta (SAGA) is a community of artists and associates who are interested in the study, preservation, and renewal of traditional methods for creating liturgical and sacred art in the Christian tradition. SAGA presented their inaugural Legacy Project in November 2021 featuring a short film on Sacred Artist Fr. Gilles LeBlanc, retired priest in the Diocese of Calgary. They hope the film will encourage you to explore our faith more through the Sacred Arts.
The SAGA Team is proud to have partnered with Annie Chirka, videographer and editor, with the intention of celebrating those members of our community who are faithful “Custodians of Beauty”.
Please visit our website to learn more about how you can be part of this Sacred Arts initiatives: SacredArtsGuildofAlberta.com
With today’s technology, we can enter into prayer through a guided Christian meditation using art from the comfort of our own home. This video by Fr. Geoff Wheaton SJ of the Jesuits of Britain meditating on the work of James Christensen gives us an experience of prayer with the Ten Lepers.
Watch this YouTube video and meditate on our need for gratitude in our life for the God’s abundant blessings. For more videos like this, use this link for the Praying with Art playlist
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” ~ Philippians 4:8
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2502 says,
“Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God - the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love visible in Christ, who "reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature," in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels, and saints. Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Saviour, the Holy One and Sanctifier.”
Surround yourself with truth, beauty, and goodness and you will seek God.
Art: Annunciation - by Ivanka Demchuk in Ukraine. Used with permission.
One of the most interesting things I learned from my Gong Gong, which is Chinese for “grandpa”, was that he grew up as the tenth child in his family. That came as a profound struggle for him since his family wasn’t well-off, and as the tenth child he usually perceived or felt the lack of parental comfort that his older siblings would get more regularly. He told me this story because I, on the other hand, have grown up as an only child. This difference in growing up is how a lot of my conversations with him have centered around life advice founded in the principles of gratitude, perseverance, and honesty. I am only able to see him in person every summer for about a week or so, and I take his lessons to heart, especially now that I have been unable to go visit him in precaution of his health.
Gratitude was the first and often returned to principle that my conversations with my grandpa would go. Primarily since I was an only child, I had no siblings to worry or quarrel with regarding attention or care from my parents, which is why my grandpa instilled into me how wholly grateful I should be when I’m looked after regarding all matters of my life: food and water, shelter, education, and most importantly, a parental devotion to forming my initial relationship with God. Since my grandpa told me tales of feeling neglect, I understand that he instilled this value into me because he wanted to emphasize how extremely blessed I am and should never take it for granted.
There still are, unfortunately, times when I do take blessings for granted. However, this is where the principle of perseverance becomes critically important. I have to admit and take responsibility for arguments and mistakes I make, which is embodied by the occasions where I would argue with my grandpa since I couldn’t quite understand what he was talking about. The key takeaway from these admittedly unpleasant interactions is that after I apologize and more closely listen to him, I do not beat myself up over the argument or misunderstanding. This also goes for when I am trying to convey something to him; something that I perhaps have great difficulty explaining to him in a way he can understand, and the perseverance he helped instill in me allows me to find that way. I still cannot imagine how much he had to persevere as the tenth child in order to make his views or opinion known to his parents. This perseverance can then be carried over to many other pursuits in my life such as education and career.
As I’ve discussed with my grandpa, these two principles of gratitude and perseverance become tightly interwoven with the principle of honesty. Gratitude for blessings must be genuine, it cannot be flippant or sarcastic as that is not only disingenuous, but also a new source for arguments or making ungratefulness even more apparent. When it comes to perseverance, my grandpa helped me to draw a line between the two unhelpful extremes: giving up or setting boundaries too early, or not setting proper boundaries for myself. Honesty is required to temper both extremes and find a proper balance. For example, a particular lesson my grandpa gave me over one summer vacation was regarding the emotional drama that I found myself wrapped up in during my high school years. He told me that it was good that I wanted to do my best to help my friends through the drama, but that it should not come at a cost to my own emotional well-being. I realized after that particular conversation that I had to give up and properly step away from the emotional turmoil I had gotten entangled in during high school; and that ended up preserving my emotional health so that I could graduate from high school.
I haven’t been able to visit my grandpa in a long time, and even though we do video calls and occasionally send emails, nothing is comparable to being able to physically talk with him face to face. In honour of 2022’s World Day for Grandparents & the Elderly, I wish to convey my heartfelt gratitude to my grandpa for all the lessons and advice he has given me so far in life. I pray to be able to visit him again soon and catch up on all the time we’ve missed.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers