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Crucial date in history of evangelization

· Cardinal Ouellet represents the Pope at celebrations for 400th anniversary of Baptism of Grand Chief Henri Membertou ·

On Sunday, 1 August, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, pss, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, presided at the celebration for the 400th anniversary of Grand Chief Henri Membertou of the Micmac Nation, held on Chapel Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The Cardinal confirmed to the Micmac Nation and its representatives the Church's full support, while assuring them that “the essential mission of the Church relates to the grace of the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ”, which includes “human promotion as an integral part of the evangelical proclamation”. The newly appointed Cardinal met the Grand Council of the Micmacs, the priests involved in pastoral service among the native Canadian peoples and the Bishops of the Atlantic dioceses. He was accompanied by Fr Robert McNeil, Episcopal Vicar for the Micmac Nation, Fr Douglas J. Murphy of Holy Rosary Parish and Mons. Luca Lorusso, Nunciature Counsellor. Bishop Joseph Dunn of Antigonish pointed out in a Pastoral Letter the Christian history of this tribe that preserved the faith despite the ordeals of history. Hence for the Church in Canada the Baptism of the Micmac Nation was not merely the celebration of a historical event at the root of the faith of a small minority but an opportunity to give evangelization a new impact. The following is Cardinal Ouellet's text.

Dear Friends,

It is with deep emotion that I preside at this commemoration of the Baptism of the Grand Chief Membertou of the Micmac Nation, as a special envoy of the Holy Father Benedict xvi. Four hundred years ago, the Grand Chief Membertou was the first aboriginal chief of North America to embrace the faith in Jesus Christ through the solemn commitment of Baptism. This event marks a memorable date in the history of evangelization.

In the official Letter of mission that the Pope sent me for this occasion, he writes: “It is highly appropriate that this event be commemorated with solemnity and underlined with the highest dignity since its celebration will be the occasion of a new source of comprehension and brotherly love between the First Nations and the other Canadians, so that, strengthened in their faith and supported by new commitments, they can together make fast progress in the way of salvation”.

Conscious of the historical and symbolic significance of these words, I cordially greet the Micmac Nation and its representatives just as the delegates of the other First Nations and all the civil and religious representatives who honor us by their presence for this solemn commemoration.

May our encounter and our prayer here today open indeed a new source of comprehension and brotherly love for all the inhabitants of Canada, but especially for the First Nations who inhabited this land. May their spiritual and cultural heritage develop harmoniously within the large Canadian family so rich in cultural diversity. May the Word of God that has been transmitted from generation to generation over the last 400 years continue to guide consciences and nourish the heart of all the inhabitants of our country with hope, peace, justice and liberty.

Today's Gospel reminds us that an authentic faith does not initially obtain for us material advantages, but spiritual goods: union with Christ, Son of God, who opens to all nations the doors of the Kingdom of God. The Gospel explicitly warns against the exclusive search of material richness: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Lk 12:15). It is the spiritual values of brotherly love, sharing, compassion and reconciliation which gives access to the goods of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Brothers, if then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).

Saint Paul adds these words which describe the reality of Baptism: For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). That is why then he insists on the New Life that characterizes the Christian existence: love, the knowledge of God, detachment, truth and freedom with respect to passions from which Christ frees us : “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry” (Col 3:5).

History tells us that the Grand Chief Membertou submitted himself generously to the life changes that his Baptism implied, welcoming catechetical teachings, moral requirements and spiritual orientations that the Jesuit Missionaries gave him, especially at the hour of his death in 1611.

Dear brothers and sisters of the Micmac Nation, dear friends of the First Nations that have embraced the Christian faith and who know consequently the incomparable richness of Christ, let us rejoice and continue to be proud of our belonging to Christ and the Church.

Today like yesterday, fidelity to Christ and the Church is not automatic and requires of each one of us a renewed personal engagement in the line of the Baptism that we received and that we profess following the Grand Chief Membertou, first indigenous Chief chosen by God to testify to Christ on North American soil.

The Catholic Church is aware of the challenges that face the First Nations on Canadian soil since the first evangelization: challenges of poverty, dependence and isolation which make difficult a just participation and the legitimate development of these nations within the large Canadian society.

Big steps towards a recognized legal status of the First Nations were made during the last decades, thanks to the concerted efforts of the indigenous communities, governmental authorities and the Churches. Much remains to be done, however, to strengthen the climate of reconciliation and truth, just as a constructive dialogue for a new alliance between the First Nations and the other cultural communities which were established in Canada throughout its history. The encounter of Pope Benedict xvi with the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations on 29 April 2009, in Rome, proved to be of great symbolic importance. It marks a decisive stage in the search for this reconciliation and a major comprehension between the Catholic Church and the First Nations of Canada.

In spite of the notable and regrettable limits of the evangelists, of which we make amends today, the Catholic Church and its missionaries in particular, inspired by the Gospel of Christ, have always sought to protect the rights of the native peoples against excessive encroachments of the economic and political powers.

We know, for example, the untiring fight of Bl. François de Laval, the first Bishop of Quebec, against the “eau de vie” tradesmen who exploited the First Nations. Pope John Paul ii solemnly recalled this engagement of the Church at the time of his famous trip to Fort Simpson in 1987: “Let me recall that, at the dawn of the Church's presence in the New World, my Predecessor Pope Paul iii proclaimed in 1537 the rights of the native peoples of those times. He affirmed their dignity, defended their freedom and asserted that they could not be enslaved or deprived of their goods or ownership. That has always been the Church's position (Paul iii, Pastorale Oficium, 29 May 1537, DS 1495). My presence among you today marks my reaffirmation and reassertion of that teaching” (John Paul ii, Address to the Native Peoples of Canada, 20 September 1987).

In the name of Pope Benedict xvi, I am happy to reiterate the support of the Catholic Church for the native people's cause in our country. If it is true that the essential mission of the Church relates to the grace of the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, this mission includes however human promotion as an integral part of the evangelical proclamation. This is why the Pope encourages all the efforts which are currently made to answer adequately the right aspirations of the native peoples, in particular the dialogue which is at hand for the reconciliation and the development of a new alliance based on equality, justice and the respect of cultural differences. For this purpose, a sufficient degree of autonomy of the native peoples is necessary, which allows them more initiatives at the economic level and more freedom in the educational field in order to guarantee the development of their cultural identity. Let us pray the Holy Spirit to assist all people engaged in this direction to find the just way so that Canada may be a model for the world in upholding the dignity of the aboriginal peoples ( ibid. ).

Dear friends of the Micmac Nation, worthy descendants of Grand Chief Membertou, let us thank God for this historic Baptism that opened a source of grace for the whole nation, consolidating the fraternal relationship amongst yourselves, the friendship with Europeans and the solidarity with the surrounding native peoples. This source of brotherly love and hope is inexhaust-ible since it is constantly renewed by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, source and summit of Christian life.

Let us offer today, together with the supreme offering of Jesus Christ, the fidelity of the Micmac Nation to the Baptism of Henri Membertou, and all the payer intentions which express the needs of the First Nations in Canada. Let us ask with fervor for a special overflowing of the Holy Spirit for a new evangelization of all the nations which compose the Canadian mosaic in this hour of our history. In answer to the express request which the Holy Father Benedict xvi addressed to me, I repeat to you his paternal affection, “so that, in fidelity to follow the customs of the Elders, they continue to follow with the greatest conviction the paths of faith and piety. Finally”, he concludes, “we want you to give on Our behalf to the people present Our Apostolic Blessing, guarantee of spiritual renewal of the soul and pledge of celestial favours”. Amen.

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