Aboriginal people flock to N. America's oldest shrine

Members of the Huron-Wendat First Nation perform a purification ritual June 26.

CNS PHOTO | PHILLIPPE VAILLANCOURT, PRESENCE

Members of the Huron-Wendat First Nation perform a purification ritual June 26.

July 11, 2016
PHILIPPE VAILLANCOURT
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

For more than 300 years, First Nations people have been coming to the shrine at the Basilica of Ste. Anne-de-Beaupre, northeast of Quebec City.

But for Blair Paul of the Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia, it was only his second pilgrimage to North America's oldest Catholic shrine.

"This is a peaceful place, very spiritual," said Paul, who made the journey with his daughter, Jada.

"It's only the second time I come. But before me, my father came for 40 years. So I came to pray."

The 1,400-seat basilica was full for the Mass on First Nations Sunday, June 26, attended by 1,000 Aboriginal people, mostly from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec.

However, in a year of political debates about First Nations people, organizers focused on a message of faith and devotion to St. Anne.

In the vast sacristy, the provincial superior of the Redemptorists of Ste. Anne de Beaupre was brushing up his homily prior to Mass.

"I don't want to mention these last year's events; I don't want to deliver a political message," said Father Charles Duval. "I want us to be called by Jesus."

ONE FAMILY

Duval said the basilica has always been a place "where we can celebrate together. I appreciate this day because we come together as one family, while many things might divide us in our daily lives."

Aboriginal people from the Huron-Wendat First Nation in Quebec City take part in the procession at the Basilica of Ste. Anne-de-Beaupre.

CNS PHOTO | PHILLIPPE VAILLANCOURT, PRESENCE

Aboriginal people from the Huron-Wendat First Nation in Quebec City take part in the procession at the Basilica of Ste. Anne-de-Beaupre.

This year's celebration was led by Bishop Dorylas Moreau of Rouyn-Noranda, Que.

Moreau said he hopes the situation of First Nations people will improve, especially after the completion of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that recognized the abuses suffered by Aboriginal children in Church-run residential schools.

Moreau said the Church still has much to learn from the First Nations.

POPULAR DEVOTION

"They're very strong on popular devotion. We have to regain that. Popular devotion mostly has more to do with the heart instead of reason. It's to touch and be touched," he said.

"Faith means entering God's mystery and abandoning yourself to him. The natives teach us to live our relationship with God through the heart."

Meanwhile, dressed in a red shirt, John Cremo from the We'koqma'q First Nation on Cape Breton Island chatted cheerfully with others inside the basilica. Cremo, a captain on the Mi'kmaq Grand Council, knows the place well.

"I've been coming for 50 years to honour St. Anne, our patron saint. She's the saint we pray (to) for healings," Cremo said.

COLOURFUL PROCESSION

Members of different First Nations carried their banners in the procession. At the beginning of the Mass, the Sandokwa dance troupe from the Huron-Wendat Nation performed a smudging ritual.

In his homily, Duval said, "God is inviting us to be one nation.

"To be able to celebrate one God together is a great testimony."

During the offertory, the Mi'kmaq Nation gave the shrine a banner depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Duce Sylliboy, daughter of Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy of the Mi'kmaq Nation, presented the banner. Shaken by the miscarriage of one of her daughters, she committed herself to making sure every Mi'kmaq church had a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

"I know she is the patron saint of the unborn," Sylliboy said. "She gives us peace and comfort."