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Church, Justice And The Works Of Mercy

David Ridley

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The Thickening Conversation:
Indian Leagues, North-South Dialogue and Crisis at Oka

Through the 1940s and 1950s, the Oblates were involved in forms of Catholic Action32 as a means of directing social pressure and stimulating organization within some native communities, particularly at Hobbema within what is now Grandin Province. In June of 1954, the Catholic Indian League of Canada was founded at Cap-de-la Madeleine.33 The primary aim of the League was to "unite and coordinate the efforts of local Catholic Action groups giving them a wider scope of influence for the protection of religious and social rights of our Indian population."34 The Alberta Division of the League was a mechanism for presenting concerns, mainly on issues of integration and education, to government officials, as it did to a joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons in 1960.35 The League created an avenue for bringing native communities in Alberta together to deliberate on issues facing the community.  The movement needs to be further studied as a precursor for future organization in native communities and as the conduct of a fuller analysis of the situation by First Nations peoples.  The work of Catholic Action is predicated on the need to transform unfriendly environments into those where it was possible to live in Christian faith.  While the Cursillo movement is not precisely about this social transformation, it is a more recent presence which has an intent of forming Christian leaders within indigenous communities to build such an atmosphere.

The North-South Dialogues beginning in Chaclacayo, Peru in March 1985 are the beginning of a wider, international conversation within the congregation towards deeper reflection on the causes of poverty, solidarity with those marginalized by the effects of international debt and the deleterious effects of development.36 A second dialogue was held in Montreal in May of 1989, resulting in the document Structural Transformation Through Solidarity.  Oblates from the Canadian, Latin American and United States Regions gathered to reflect on the 1986 Oblate Chapter document "Missionaries in Today's World" and on the encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.  The 1986 Chapter document urged all Oblates "to study, with the poor themselves as well as with other involved Christians, structural and other causes of poverty."  Foremost among the areas of action for the Canadian Region were the rights of aboriginal people, the right to work and the preservation of natural resources.  In his address to those gathered for the Montreal dialogue, Assistant General Daniel Corijn stated

there was the tendency of Social Ministry remaining an elitist ministry, in the sense that only a small number of Oblates and co-workers are involved.  My concern is:  how to make all Oblates (or at least as many as possible) aware of the fact that ministry for Justice and Peace is an integral part of our mission.  Just as the concern for the poor forms an integral part of our charism as Oblates, so is the concern for Justice and Peace.37

In the same meeting in Montreal, the final document notes that a concern for "allowing oneself to be evangelized better... non-native missionaries need to go through a process of inculturation in order to make their own the problems and the hopes of native people they intend to serve."38 Following the Peru dialogue, the Oblate Conference of Canada Commission for Justice and Peace was formed, and in October 1989 a Grandin Province Justice and Peace Committee emerged.

During the summer of 1990, this network of Oblate Justice and Peace committees responded to the Oka crisis and the ensuing requests from native and church leaders to organizing prayer and services of solidarity. 39 Initially, a service was held at Edmonton's Sacred Heart Parish, conducted by Fr. Gary Laboucane. This caused a ripple throughout the country resulting in a request by the All Chiefs Conference to all churches for their expressions of solidarity and a national mobilization of church effort.40 It is in this period that the Oblate apology is made to the First Nations peoples of Canada. [see adjacent sidebar]
[sidebar 2 with photograph of Sacred Heart Church- vertical orientation]


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