The Papal Visit to Canada secretariat has been created by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the national assembly of the Bishops of Canada. It was founded in 1943 and officially recognized by the Holy See in 1948. The Papal Visit team is working closely with numerous partners including the Vatican, Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers and survivors of residential schools along with government officials at the federal, provincial and municipal levels as we prepare for this historic visit.
Looking together at the themes of mercy, healing and reconciliation, members of the choir carefully chose music to support Pope Francis’ journey to walking together at his Papal Mass taking place at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on July 26, 2022.
The choir will play a pivotal role not only in the Mass but in the continued work of reconciliation between the Church and Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Karen Koester is the choir coordinator and has recruited members from parishes across Edmonton. Johanna Dietrich is the choir director and conductor. She has carefully curated the choral music around the papal visit’s theme, “Walking Together,” on the path of healing and reconciliation. Some lyrics are written specifically for the papal Mass, and the choir will sing one hymn in the Cree language.
While none of the choir members are fluent in Cree, they are diligently practicing for when they sing before the Holy Father and the many indigenous elders and survivors in attendance. When asked about the choir, one of the tenors, Kevin Napora, replied that it is much larger than anything he has done in his past ten years singing.
“It’s scary! We don’t learn this much music in one sitting,” said Napora. “It’s a giant learning curve for me.”
Napora is a member of the Dene First Nation, born in Inuvik, and he moved to Edmonton shortly after finishing fourth grade up north. The papal visit is especially meaningful for him as his mother was a residential school survivor.
“I don’t know about other families, but my family was really kind of broken by that,” said Napora. “None of my family went to Church. Once they graduated, that was it; they never went back to Catholicism.”
However, in his youth, Napora felt drawn to the Church and often attended Mass on his own. Sacred music played a decisive role in his faith. “As a kid, I loved Gregorian Chant, “said Napora. “Loved it but never heard it. I would only hear it on records and stuff that I had.”
After a period away from the Church, Napora started attending Traditional Latin Mass and invited his mom to come with him. “I thought she might be a bit traumatized because it was what she had learned when she was a kid,” said Napora. “She ended up really liking it.” In time, his mom even began to sing in the parish choir. Together they attended Pope St. John Paul II’s papal visit to Edmonton in 1984.
“She had really come back to embracing the Church again,” said Napora. “I know my mom would have loved this.”
Singing in Cree will be challenging for the choir but incredibly significant for the healing of survivors. During the choir practice at St. Thomas Moore Church on July 14th, Cree Elder and day school survivor Betty Letendre taught the choir the pronunciation of the lyrics in the Cree language.
Letendre attended day school in northeastern Alberta before moving to Edmonton almost sixty years ago. She now works for the Edmonton Catholic School Division and founded their Council of Elders. She has taught Cree for over 30 years.
Singing in Cree before the Holy Father will be a historic moment in the path of reconciliation. It is one of the many indigenous languages that children were forbidden to speak at residential and day schools.
“We suffered so much. We had to eat soap and get hit when we spoke our language,” said Letendre. “We would be beaten and hit. So when this hymn is sung in Cree, it’s like this is how powerful and resilient our languages are, when we sing this for the whole world to hear.”
As the choir will sing in less than a week, they are working tirelessly for their critical part in the Holy Father’s “pilgrimage of penance.” While singing in Cree will necessitate hours of practice, it is crucial to the path of reconciliation. The culture that was once forbidden will now hold a place of honour before Pope Francis, and the 65,000 people gathered in the Commonwealth Stadium for holy Mass.
“When I hear our language being sung at such a high mass to the highest Holy Father there is, for me, I guess you could say that’s forgiveness in itself,” said Letendre. “Let the people know they have a voice.”
Priority seating is given to Indigenous peoples who wish to attend the papal Mass in the Commonwealth stadium. Please register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I learned from my grandmother that reconciliation can take many forms”
Father Cristino Bouvette is an Indigenous Albertan ordained in the Diocese of Calgary in 2012. His Kokum (grandmother) was a Cree residential school survivor from Saddle Lake, Alberta, and his grandfather was Métis from central Alberta. He is passionate about fostering reconciliation between the Catholic Church and Indigenous Peoples.
Archbishop Smith opens the doors for the rededication of the newly rebuilt Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, the first liturgy to take place inside since the fire 2 years ago.
The long-awaited ceremony took place on Sunday, July 17. 2022, attended by hundreds of joyful parishioners, led by a procession of drummers, indigenous leaders, elders, volunteers, community members and more.
The national Indigenous Catholic parish will be visited by Pope Francis on Monday, July 25, 2022.
To help Sacred Heart finish their fundraising goal for the rebuild, donate below!
Following extensive restoration work after a fire in 2020, the church and its parishioners are ready to come together and welcome Pope Francis to Edmonton.
After an Indigenous delegation from Canada travelled to Rome to invite the Holy Father to visit the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples.
The church and its parishioners are looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis during this pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation across the country.
Built in 1913, the church has undergone extensive restoration work after a devastating fire damaged the parish two years ago.
Renovations not only restored what was lost in the fire but also better incorporated Indigenous culture, values, and symbolism–paving a path forward of forgiveness and respect.
The church now incorporates Indigenous spiritual symbols, a teepee at the altar area, tables for smudge pots, and art portraying the Stations of the Cross by a local Métis artist.
“The sanctuary of the church showcases a tabernacle shaped as a teepee. We wanted this sacred container to reflect and honour traditional Indigenous dwellings,” said Father Mark Blom, OMI, Priest and Associate Pastor at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples.
“The strong maple wood used to create the tabernacle was salvaged from handrails that withstood the fire, bringing old elements from the church into this renovated space.”
The Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples was designated as a national Indigenous church more than 30 years ago, becoming the first of its kind in Canada.
The parish reopened its doors for the first time in two years on Sunday, July 17, holding a rededication ceremony and its first mass since the fire.
“I love what they’ve done with the renovations–it now feels homier. The papal visit is a tremendous opportunity for the healing of our nation,” expressed Fernie Marty, Elder with Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples. “This visit opens a new chapter for the relationships between Catholicism and Indigenous peoples.”
In addition to blending Indigenous culture and Catholic tradition, the church’s renovations are making the parish more accessible by adding accessible washrooms and a lift, which will be ready for the papal visit.
“This work is unique for our company, and we are honoured to have been given this opportunity. With Pope Francis visiting this church, we are excited that our talents and effort here at Clark Builders will be showcased on a world stage,” said Jason Clooney, Site Superintendent with Clark Builders.
An invitation-only event for Indigenous peoples and members of the Sacred Heart Church’s community will take place on July 25 when the Pope visits Edmonton. The dedication ceremony, holy mass, and the liturgy will be livestreamed on the church’s Facebook page.
Renovations restored what was lost in the fire while also incorporating Indigenous culture, values, and symbolism – paving a path forward of forgiveness and respect.
July 20, 2022 – As communities prepare to welcome Pope Francis in less than a week for his Canadian visit, we recognize that many will be unable to travel to Alberta, Québec or Nunavut to experience events in person. We also recognize the significance of the papal visit for residential school and day school Survivors, Elders, Knowledge Keepers and all those who support them.
In addition to substantive coverage from Canadian and international broadcasters, multilingual livestreams will be made available to bring the papal visit virtually to as many people as possible.
The Government of Canada is funding the simultaneous interpretation of events in a broad range of languages:
- Interpretation will be available in Algonquin, Atikamekw, Cree (East), Cree (Plains), Dene, Innu, Inuktitut, Michif, Mi’kmaw, Mohawk, Ojibway, and Witsuwet’in.
- Two livestreams offering American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language interpretation will also be made available.
- Viewers can also watch livestream interpretation in English, French and Spanish.
Those wishing to view livestreams with commentary can also watch Vatican TV livestreams in the following languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, German and Portuguese.
We are grateful to all those who have worked so diligently to make the Papal Visit to Canada accessible in so many languages to help communicate and foster a message of reconciliation, healing and hope.