Pope Francis will celebrate mass in one of the basilicas of Quebec, a place of indigenous pilgrimage

MONTREAL – The site of the first Mass in Quebec during the Pope’s week-long visit to Canada to make amends to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities is a renowned pilgrimage destination that fuses Indigenous culture and Catholicism .

For more than 300 years, the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, about 30 kilometers northeast of Quebec, has been visited by thousands of pilgrims, and Sainte-Anne — venerated in Christianity as the grandmother of Jesus — holds a unique place in some Indigenous cultures.

“I think Sainte-Anne has always been part of the spiritual life of Indigenous peoples… the Innu pray to her a lot,” said Tania Courtois, Innu health coordinator for the community of Ekuanitshit, on the Lower North Shore. of Quebec. in a recent interview.

Courtois will be among hundreds of people from his community, including several residential school survivors, to attend Pope Francis’ mass on Thursday.

The event comes amid tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and Indigenous peoples who suffered years of abuse in residential schools across Canada. But Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, says there is no animosity or questioning of people’s personal religious choices.

“There is a reappropriation of our own traditional values, which include spirituality, without really abandoning the Catholic religion in many cases,” Picard said in a recent interview. « I’m no expert, but there are a lot of people who have probably learned to combine the two. »

Denis Gagnon, professor of anthropology at the Université de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg, has studied the origins of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré and the devotion to Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, among the Innu of the northeast. of Quebec.

Towards the end of the 1990s, Gagnon met several Aboriginal communities in the region to observe rituals and practices. Gagnon said Aboriginal people were drawn to Sainte-Anne because of her healing powers and status as a strong woman. He pointed out that grandmothers play a key role in many indigenous cultures.

Missionaries used his story to convert indigenous people to Catholicism, he said. “Jesus didn’t mean much to them,” Gagnon said in a recent interview. « (Saint Anne) is a character with whom one can intercede for favors: health, a good hunt, a large family. »

Louis Rousseau, a professor in the religion department at the University of Quebec in Montreal, echoes Gagnon’s observations.

« Her place as a grandmother allowed Indigenous people to understand her as a protector, because in their worldview, grandfathers and grandmothers, real or imagined, held this function, » Rousseau said in a recent interview.

For Jeannette Vollant, a 70-year-old Innu from the community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, it is love and respect for her family rather than religious devotion that will lead her to attend mass on Thursday.

« I have nothing against people who will continue to go to Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, who have a passion for Ste-Anne, » Vollant said in a recent interview. « It’s everyone’s choice. »

Jay Launière-Mathias, a 28-year-old Innu and Anishinaabe from the community of Mashteuiatsh, says he respects those who find healing in Catholicism even if he feels estranged from religion.

« As a young Aboriginal, it’s more what comes after that that interests me, » said Launière-Mathias in a recent interview. “What will be the gestures of reparation? It’s not because the pope apologizes that people are cured.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 23, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.


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