Orange paint was splattered over the exterior of a Catholic church in Nelson on Canada Day, the latest act of vandalism against churches following discoveries of bodies at residential schools.
Parishioners of Cathedral of Mary Immaculate in downtown Nelson discovered the damage to the exterior of the 122-year-old building early Thursday morning. A poster with the message “No pride in genocide” was also pasted to the building.
Bishop Gregory Bittman said the repairs will be costly for a church that doesn’t operate with much money.
“They meet their bills but it’s not that there’s huge amounts of money available for extra expenses like this,” said Bittman. “Because that’s what this does, it hurts those most in need and the people who go to the parish. That’s the very sad thing about it.”
Churches in B.C., Alberta and Nova Scotia have either been vandalized or destroyed outright since 215 bodies were discovered last month at Kamloops Residential School.
More than 60 per cent of residential schools were run by the Roman Catholic Church, which has never issued a papal apology to victims although the head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver did offer a formal apology last month. A delegation from the Assembly of First Nations intends to seek a papal apology in December.
The assembly’s national chief, Perry Bellegarde, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have meanwhile called for an end to the acts of vandalism.
Bittman acknowledged the anger felt by Canadians, but said it shouldn’t be taken out on places of worship.
“I spoke with one Indigenous person whose church was burned down and she said, ‘I’m praying for a forgiving heart.’ So I think that’s really what we have to do despite what has happened, we have to pray to be able to forgive these people who are doing this. So that’s what I would say, and not to be discouraged by all of this.”
Christopher Yates, a Métis man, is among the Catholics who pray at Cathedral of Mary Immaculate.
Yates’ great grandfather and grandparents both attended residential schools, which he said resulted in inter-generational trauma for his family. But Catholicism, Yates said, is part of his story.
“When they took our children to residential schools, and my grandparents, it made us become Catholic,” said Yates.
“So those religions and those beliefs and the solace we find in the Catholic Church and the Creator and God, don’t go away quickly, and don’t go away because of this discovery.”
At St. Joseph School next to the church, Yates has worked with teachers to introduce reconciliation into the curriculum. One project was in April, Yates and the West Kootenay Métis Society worked with students to build a drum.
If people want to be allies, he said, they should read the 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report instead of vandalizing churches.
“That’s something that each human, each person, can start implementing immediately,” said Yates.
“So if you want to be an ally, be an ally and listen to what Indigenous people need. Don’t take these actions on your own. That’s not being an ally, doing these things on our behalf.”
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