Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 18, 2005
Sweetgrass soothes the grieving
Ben Calf Robe-St. Clare students honour revered pope with native ceremonies
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
While Pope John Paul II was being buried April 8 in a crypt under St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Ben Calf Robe-St. Clare School (K-9) in Edmonton held a memorial service to honour his life.
Principal Bryan Richardson wanted to keep the ceremony simple using native traditions. Children sang reflective songs with a screen presentation showing still images of the pontiff's life.
The students saw the pope with Mother Teresa, in an alpine scene holding a walking stick and blessing a child. Others pictured him with doves, the moment he was shot and praying at the Wailing Wall.
"In our school, we have a mix of native spirituality and Catholicity and they stand equal. One isn't higher than the other or overlapping," Richardson said in an interview. "It works out well for us. We honour both aspects of being."
"Our Holy Father was called to be with the grandfather and grandmother spirits," Richardson told the staff and students who gathered in the gym.
Thirteen-year-old Bradley McIvor is known as an escopio, or medicine man in training. With fellow Grade 8 student James Forrester, McIvor burned tobacco and sweetgrass prior to the memorial, cleansing the room of any evil spirits during a smudging ritual. The boys were trained by the school's elder - Mahkoos - to respect the medicines and honour them in the proper protocols.
"This ceremony is very spiritual. It is helping me with my teachings and using them to help other people, McIvor said. "In our culture, the eagle flies above all else and it sees all. The pope was just like the eagle. He flew above everyone and saw all. It is really sad we lost him."
Richardson said all 250 students are aboriginal, with about 85 per cent Catholic. About 80 per cent are First Nations, 17 per cent are Metis and three per cent Inuit. "Through our Catholic faith, it is probably the closest faith to the native spirituality faith," he said. "We do not become overbearing with our Catholicity. We merely show our spirituality through our role models and examples of living the risen Christ. The students see it daily."
The school tries to operate with core values of integrity, honesty, fairness, dignity and respect. It tries to impart communal and personal growth to the students and their families.
Remembering the pope
"Today, as we celebrate this memorial, keep in mind all those for whom our pope stood for," Richardson told the gathering.
"He stood for the elderly. Our pope, when he was aging and becoming sick, wrote letters to elderly giving them strength to carry on their journey. He also spoke for all religions of the world. This great man was one of the first to bring all denominations together so that we were really one heart with many faiths; many colours.
"This great man had a wonderful love of children. Even though he became ill, he stood as a testament to what it is like to have Christ in our lives and to go with that type of faith even when we are sick and dying. He never gave up his faith," he said. "And now he rests in the comfort of God's holy realm."
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