Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 28, 1999
Native people say 'farewell'
Archbishop created aboriginal RPC before retiring
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Lac Ste. Anne
They treated him as a friend and thanked him for all he's done for native people in his 26 years as archbishop of Edmonton.
Native people especially thanked Archbishop Joseph MacNeil for his decision to create the Native Regional Pastoral Council, an umbrella organization for native parishes in the archdiocese.
About 100 native Catholics and guests braved cold weather to take part in the native regional farewell celebration with the retired archbishop here June 19.
The celebration at the Lac Ste. Anne Shrine also featured speeches on vocations to the priesthood, faith testimonies from native leaders, Gospel music, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, the rosary and a Mass with the retiring archbishop.
At the end of the Mass, a native band played several songs in honour of the archbishop, including one they had composed especially for him. The archbishop danced with the congregation and accepted gifts from the six native parishes.
Native people and the archbishop have had a good relationship over the years, one marked by friendship and respect.
A few years ago MacNeil transferred Sacred Heart Parish in Edmonton's inner city to native hands, thus establishing the first urban native parish in Canada.
He also encouraged and supported First Nations events like the Ste. Anne Pilgrimage and the Marian Eucharistic Congress and made native people feel welcome in his office.
Native leaders credit him with allowing their spirituality to develop. His last official act on behalf of native people was the establishment of a native regional pastoral council in November.
The council includes representatives of all native parishes and will improve communication among native Catholics.
Two council members sit on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, a body with representatives from all the regions of the archdiocese, the Council of Priests and the Council of Women Religious. The APC meets regularly with the archbishop to discuss pastoral matters.
As MacNeil explained in an interview, the Native Regional Pastoral Council gives native parishes "an opportunity to share with one another their catechetical programs, their sacramental preparation programs and also to share with the other parishes through the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council."
Stephane Ouimet, interim chair of the regional council, said "I think Archbishop MacNeil has shown that native people have an equal status in the body of Christ as any other nation in this area."
"He's raised awareness of the dignity of native people and of the importance of their uniqueness. We'll miss him. He's a special man, dear to our hearts."
Ouimet, who handed over the presidency of the council to former chief Rod Alexis after the celebration, described the establishment of the council as "an important occasion for our Church."
It gives native Catholics "an opportunity to be involved in the life of the archdiocese," she said.
Alexis, the council's president, said the new council was "something that was needed for a long time to get our people involved in the life of the archdiocese."
"I think it's a benefit for native people. It will allow for collective planning instead of each area doing its own thing."
The council will make it easier for native people to evangelize, he said.
Alexis thanked MacNeil for "opening the doors" of the Church to native people and for supporting their initiatives and encouraging their spirituality.
"He's allowed us to grow up spiritually," he said. "He's visited us often. Plus when we want to meet him, his doors are always open."
In an interview, MacNeil described the farewell celebration as "a wonderful exchange between friends. We have been friends all these 26 years and I'm happy to be with them and celebrate with them."
The archdiocese has done its part to make native people feel welcome in the life of the Church but native people have contributed a lot to the Church too, MacNeil observed.
"(Their presence) has helped us to understand something of their spirituality, their relationship with God, their prayer life, their respect for nature, their respect for creation and their respect for the environment," he said.
"I think they have demonstrated a very deep faith as Catholics. They are here because of their faith."