Smith learning from aboriginal people

The Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples drew hundreds of indigenous to join the congregation at St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton Dec 12.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

The Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples drew hundreds of indigenous to join the congregation at St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton Dec 12.

December 29, 2014
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Catholics can learn important lessons from how God is moving in and among First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, says Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith.

Smith said aboriginal people have taught him the importance of listening deeply, respect for elders and how a person's sense of identity is linked to their place in the family and the wider community.

The archbishop made his comments during his homily at the Dec. 12 Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica marking the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.

The archdiocese has celebrated the Marian feast for several years, but this year after a request from Chief Tony Alexis, chief of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, it gave a central role in the liturgy to aboriginal people.

Several hundred indigenous people were among those participating in the Mass, and an indigenous drum group and an aboriginal music ministry led the singing. Native people played other key roles in the liturgy.

SHARING IN PRAYER

After the Mass, Alexis told the WCR the liturgy was important to the aboriginal community, both for the recognition it gave and for the opportunity to share in prayer.

Participants in the Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe placed roses before her icon.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Participants in the Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe placed roses before her icon.

"I was very pleased with all the people that showed up," he said. "It was good to get that kind of support when we're doing prayer like this."

Alexis said when the community gathers in prayer, it provides an opportunity to think about those who are struggling in their lives. "Our prayer is the hope that they would join us in these gatherings."

Smith, in his homily, said "the most profound lesson" he has learned from aboriginal people is the importance of silence and listening.

Recently, the archbishop hosted a listening circle in his office with representatives from the bands in the archdiocese.

"It lasted close to three hours, during which each member of the circle gave as much time as was necessary to the others to speak whatever was in their mind and heart. We took all the time needed just to listen.

MARY'S WILLINGNESS TO LISTEN

"This was a remarkable demonstration of profound respect for the dignity of the other, a dignity rooted in the acceptance of the other as a child of the Creator."

Native elders took part in a solemn entrance procession prior to the start of Mass.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Native elders took part in a solemn entrance procession prior to the start of Mass.

Smith related this experience to the Virgin Mary's ability to listen and respond to the Word of God.

"She received the message of the angel Gabriel with surprise and questioning, but not with disbelief. She listened fully because she trusted, and from that listening gave her fiat."

The archbishop said he is also touched by the respect given to elders in aboriginal communities, a respect he contrasted with the voices being raised in Canada to euthanize the elderly and the weak.

Native elders who are in need quickly receive the support of their family and community, he said. "There is a ready recognition of and deep gratitude for their wisdom and witness."

Again, Smith compared the aboriginal response with that of Mary who travelled in haste across the rugged Judean countryside to help her elder kinswoman Elizabeth. "Mary allowed no obstacle to stand in her way of reaching out to her aged relative."

Finally, the archbishop noted that indigenous people draw their personal identity from their community and family. "One's self-knowledge and self-respect arises from the history, language and culture of the people to who they belong."