· Vatican City ·

Sacred Heart parishioners share their stories of service

Standing by those most in need

 Standing by those most in need  ING-030
29 July 2022

Speaking on behalf of the pastoral council of Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, Candida Shepherd and Bill Perdue presented to the Pope the service carried out by the parish community. “Our parish has been working to be a place of healing and reconciliation for many years”, they explained. Candida Shepherd, “a proud member of the Métis Nation of Alberta” expressed her gratitude “for how [their] community connects the Spirituality of [their] Indigenous ancestors and [their] deep relationship with [the] creator and [her] Catholic journey”. Bill Perdue in turn, shared his experience living his “Catholic faith in a parish that recognizes and honours [his] Indigenous and Irish ancestors”.

Built in 1913, the parish is a point of reference for the Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Croatian, and, more recently, Eritrean communities. Through the leadership of Fr. Gary Laboucane, an Indigenous Oblate priest, this parish began to express its indigenous traditions in Catholic worship”, explained the two representatives.

In 1991, they said, “Sacred Heart was designated as Canada’s National Indigenous Parish”. They explained that “care of the poor and needy is a core value of this parish. Many of the peoples served in our inner-city parish find themselves in acute need, such as poverty, addiction, and homelessness”.

“Every day we respond to the immediate needs of hundreds of people who come to our door seeking a lunch, clothing, an emergency food hamper or simply encouragement and prayer”, they told the Pope. It is a service carried out in the Archdiocese of Edmonton “with other parishes and organizations”. And, they said, “although we are one of the poorest parishes financially in the Archdiocese, with the help of so many, we can serve hundreds of people every day”. Because, the speakers reiterated, “we are poor in finances, and rich in Catholic faith and the practice of mercy”, in that “we are always mindful that we are disciples of Jesus Christ when we serve those in need, and there is great need in our local community”.

“Many of those challenges can be traced back to the legacy of the Canadian Indian Residential School System, including those operated by the Roman Catholic Church”, they noted, thanking the Pope “for hearing our voices”. They acknowledged that it was precisely the Holy Father’s presence there which gave them “the opportunity to confront, to understand, to release and to transcend our trauma. At Sacred Heart, we recognise that our newly restored church will serve as a venue for healing and reconciliation between the Indigenous of this land and all those who chose to come here now and in the future”, they said.

Sacred Heart Church, they affirmed, “embodies what we refer to as “Reconcili-ACTION,” where we embrace the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with action, to live as disciples of Christ to serve those who suffer. We believe with absolute conviction that Every Child Matters. And that every woman and girl is sacred”.

“The presence of our Holy Father here today, who Himself has championed the global rights of children and celebrated the importance of family, is an acknowledgement of our belief that every child has the right to have parents and grandparents in their life, the right to celebrate their culture, whether Indigenous or other, and that every child is entitled to his or her own voice. Our Church”, they concluded, “is a place where the survivors of residential school trauma can come with their families and gather as an inclusive community” and “a place where we will continue to preserve and revitalize Indigenous languages, arts, and music — instilling pride in our future generations”.