The papal visit – Report from Bishop †Noël Simard

THE DIOCESE OF VALLEYFIELD PARTICIPATED IN THE VISIT OF POPE FRANCIS TO CANADA

From July 24 to 29, 2022, Pope Francis made a very important trip to Canada. This pastoral visit, which was primarily one of healing, hope and reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples, allowed him to listen to and dialogue with these peoples, to express his sincere closeness and, in extraordinary humility, to ask for forgiveness and to apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in the residential school system in Canada. In clear and relevant language, he expressed his pain, shame and sorrow for the abuse and disrespect of Aboriginal identities, culture and spiritual values. He also asked for forgiveness for victims of sexual abuse by clergy or religious orders.

It was an opportunity for Aboriginal peoples and the Catholic faithful to walk together and enter the circle of dance, mutual listening, healing and harmony. Using a wheelchair, Pope Francis gave an extraordinary testimony of strength, courage, humility and hope.

The diocese of Valleyfield wanted to enter this circle by organizing a pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, a place dear to the natives and also to the faithful of the Catholic Church. Forty-eight people of all ages and from the four corners of the diocese, accompanied by Ms. Mélanie Pilon and Ms. Anne Coulter, gathered at two o’clock in the morning at the Diocesan Centre to board a bus that would take them to the shrine of Ste-Anne for the Mass presided over by Pope Francis. Mrs. Pascale Grenier, responsible for the organization of the pilgrimage, was there to wish them a good trip. She was also there when they returned with Father André Lafleur. Each pilgrim received a bag on the bus with the theme of Pope Francis’ trip and a snack for their arrival at the site of the Basilica of Ste-Anne. I would like to thank Pascale from the bottom of my heart for the organization of this pilgrimage which was done under difficult conditions and at the last minute, to the pastoral agents Mélanie and Anne for their much appreciated accompaniment, to Cynthia Crevier for the choice of the bag and the judicious suggestions, to Danielle Bergeron for the numerous services rendered with kindness, and of course to all the participants for their bravery and their testimony of faith.

I was not able to travel by bus with the pilgrims because I had to go to Quebec City on July 26 to be able to stay at the Séminaire de Québec and receive an accreditation card allowing me to circulate in a perimeter under high surveillance and security. On the 28th, at 5:30 a.m., I had to walk to the hotel Le Concorde from where the shuttle bus was leaving to bring all the bishops to Ste-Anne de Beaupré. We were all invited to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis.

In addition, two priests, a deacon and three pastoral agents were able to participate in the celebration of Solemn Vespers on July 28 at 5:00 pm presided by the Holy Father at the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica. They were among the 6 guests that each diocese could delegate to this celebration. Two of them were able to shake hands with the Pope as well as myself, your humble bishop and all the bishops present. One could read the joy on all the faces, especially those of Cardinal Lacroix and Bishop Raymond Poisson who welcomed Pope Francis.

Pope Francis gave a remarkable homily that earned him resounding applause. I strongly advise you to read it. Everyone came back delighted and happy to have been able to live privileged moments with Pope Francis and to better know our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. An invitation had been extended to the Mohawk members of the St. Regis Mission of Akwesasne to join the pilgrimage to Valleyfield, but they joined the Diocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, which offered them the opportunity to leave the day before the big gathering in Quebec City. Finally, many diocesan men and women followed the Pope’s itinerary and watched the celebrations on television, on Youtube or on a giant screen that some parishes had made available to the faithful, such as the Basilica-Cathedral of Ste-Cécile.

Pope Francis’ healing and reconciliation visit was organized in record time and at a time of year when many people go on vacation. This may explain the limited participation of the faithful in the colourful events, but it must be said that the conditions of access to the places of celebration and meeting did not facilitate a free and numerous participation. Despite this, Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to Canada was a success and certainly contributed to the process of healing and reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples. It is now up to us to follow up on this unforgettable journey with concrete actions of dialogue, listening, sharing and reconciliation. As the theme of Pope Francis’ journey invited us to do, we must continue to walk together on this long road of solidarity, peace and restorative justice.

May the Spirit of the Lord strengthen us on this path and may Saint Kateri Tekakwitha accompany and sustain us!

+ Noël, Bishop