Bookmark and Share

John Paul II's 2nd Apostolic Visit to Canada

Sunday, 20th September 1987

Blessed Pope John Paul II was a pilgrim to Canada for the second time, at the end of his 37th apostolic voyage on which he had also visited the United States of America.

JPII's Address at his Meeting with the Native Peoples of Canada
at Fort Simpson, Canada - in English & Italian

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1, 7).

Dear Aboriginal Brothers and Sisters,
1. I wish to tell you how happy I am to be with you, the native peoples of Canada, in this beautiful land of Denendeh. I have come first from across the ocean and now from the United States to be with you, and I know that many of you have also come from far away - from the frozen Arctic, from the prairies, from the forests, from all parts of this vast and beautiful country of Canada.

Three years ago I was not able to complete my visit to you, and I have looked forward to the day when I could return to do so. Today is that day. I come now, as I did then, as the Successor of the Apostle Peter, whom the Lord chose to care for his Church as “a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and fellowship” (Lumen Gentium, 18). It is my task to preside over the whole assembly of charity and protect legitimate variety while at the same time seeing that differences do not hinder unity but rather contribute towards it (cf LG, 13). To use Saint Paul’s words, I am "a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart to proclaim the gospel of God” (Rom 1, 1). Like Saint Paul, I wish to proclaim to you and to the entire Church in Canada: “I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God leading everyone who believes in it to salvation” (Rom 1, 16).

2. Je viens donc vers vous comme tant de missionnaires qui l’ont fait avant moi. Ils ont proclamé le nom de Jésus aux peuples qui habitaient le Canada - les Indiens, les Inuit et les Métis. Ils ont appris à vous aimer et à apprécier les trésors spirituels et culturels de votre genre de vie. Ils ont montré du respect pour votre patrimoine, pour vos langues et pour vos coutumes (cf Ad Gentes, 26). Comme j’en faisais la remarque lors de ma visite précédente, la “renaissance de votre culture et de vos traditions que vous connaissez aujourd’hui est largement due aux initiatives et aux efforts continus des missionnaires”. C’est vrai, “les missionnaires restent parmi vos meilleurs amis; ils consacrent leur vie à votre service alors qu’ils proclament la Parole de Dieu”. Moi aussi, je viens vers vous en ami.

3. Such constructive service is what Jesus wants of his disciples. That has always been the Church’s intention in making herself present in each place, in each people’s history. When the faith was first preached among the native inhabitants of this land, “the worthy traditions of the Indian tribes were strengthened and enriched by the Gospel message. Your forefathers knew by instinct that the Gospel, far from destroying their authentic values and customs, had the power to purify and uplift the cultural heritage which they had received... Thus not only is Christianity relevant to the Indian peoples, but Christ, in the members of his Body, is himself Indian” (JPII 15 Sept 1984).

In that spirit of respect and missionary service, I repeat what I said on the occasion of my previous visit, that my coming among you looks back to your past in order to proclaim your dignity and support your destiny. Today I repeat those words to you, and to all the Aboriginal peoples of Canada and of the world. The Church extols the equal human dignity of all peoples and defends their right to uphold their own cultural character with its distinct traditions and customs.

4. I am aware that the major Aboriginal organizations - the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, the Metis National Council, and the Native Council of Canada - have been engaged in high level talks with the Prime Minister and Premiers regarding ways of protecting and enhancing the rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada in the Constitution of this great country. Once again I affirm the right to a just and equitable measure of self-government, along with a land base and adequate resources necessary for developing a viable economy for present and future generations. I pray with you that a new round of conferences will be beneficial and that, with God’s guidance and help, a path to a just agreement will be found to crown all the efforts being made.

These endeavours, in turn, were supported by the Catholic bishops of Canada and the leaders of the major Christian Churches and communities. Together, they have called for a “new covenant” to ensure your basic Aboriginal rights, including the right to self-government. Today, I pray that the Holy Spirit will help you all to find the just way so that Canada may be a model for the world in upholding the dignity of the Aboriginal peoples.

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 (cf Pauli III Pastorale Oficium, 29 May 1537). My presence among you today marks my reaffirmation and reassertion of that teaching.

5. There are very close links between the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and human development. In his famous Encyclical on the Development of Peoples, Pope Paul VI reflected on this reality against the background of the deep aspirations of peoples all over the world towards freedom and development. In his words, the fundamental desire of peoples everywhere is “to seek to do more, know more and have more in order to be more“ (Populorum Progressio, 6). Is that not the deepest hope of the Indian, Metis and Inuit peoples of Canada? To be more. That is your destiny and that is the challenge that faces you. And today I have come in order to assure you that the Church stands with you as you strive to enhance your development as native peoples. Her missionary personnel and her institutions seek to work for that cause with you.

6. At the same time, instructed by the teachings of Christ and enlightened by history, the Church appeals to all developing peoples everywhere, not to limit the notion of human progress to the search for material well-being, at the cost of religious and spiritual growth. Paul VI wisely wrote that “personal and communal development would be threatened if the true scale of values were undermined. The desire for necessities is legitimate, and work undertaken to obtain them is a duty... But... increased possession is not the ultimate goal of nations or of individuals” (
Populorum Progressio, 18-19).

There are other values which are essential to life and society. Each people possesses a civilization handed down from its ancestors, involving institutions called for by its way of life, with its artistic, cultural and religious manifestations. The true values contained in these realities must not be sacrificed to material considerations. “A people that would act in this way would thereby lose the best of its patrimony; in order to live, it would be sacrificing its reasons for living" (
Populorum Progressio, 40).

What Christ said about individuals applies also to peoples: “for what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Mat 16, 26). What would become of the “life” of the Indian, Inuit and Metis peoples if they cease to promote the values of the human spirit which have sustained them for generations? If they no longer see the earth and its benefits as given to them in trust by the Creator? If the bonds of family life are weakened, and instability undermines their societies? If they were to adopt an alien way of thinking, in which people are considered according to what they have and not according to what they are?

The soul of the native peoples of Canada is hungry for the Spirit of God, because it is hungry for justice, peace, love, goodness, fortitude, responsibility and human dignity (cf Redemptor Hominis, 18). This is indeed a decisive time in your history. It is essential that you be spiritually strong and clear-sighted as you build the future of your tribes and nations. Be assured that the Church will walk that path with you.

7. By coming among you I have wished to underline your dignity as native peoples. With heartfelt concern for your future. I invite you to renew your trust in God who guides the destinies of all peoples and clear-sighted as you build the future of your tribes and nations. The eternal Father has sent his Son to reveal to us the mystery of our living in this world and of our journeying to the everlasting life that is to come. In the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been reconciled with God and with each other. Jesus Christ is our peace (cf Eph 2, 14).

"May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, grant you", the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, “a spirit of wisdom and insight to know him clearly. May he enlighten your innermost vision that you may know the great hope to which he has called you” (Eph 1, 17-18).

In the love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I bless each one of you, and pray for the peace and happiness of your families, your bands and your nations. God be with you all!"

Blessed John Paul II's Homily at Mass for the Native Peoples of Canada
at Camp Ground of Fort Simpson - in English & Italian

“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near” (Is. 55, 6).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. We have waited a long time for this moment. Almost exactly three years ago my visit to Denendeh was prevented by weather conditions. Now, at last, God has brought us together and gives us the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist of the 25th Sunday of the Year.

Je salue mes frères les Evêques, spécialement Mgr Denis Croteau, Evêque de ce diocèse de Mackenzie-Fort Smith. Je salue également les prêtres, les religieux, les religieuses et les laïcs. Je remercie Son Excellence le Gouverneur Général d’avoir tenu à venir ici, ainsi que les Représentants des Autorités civiles canadiennes. Je suis particulièrement heureux de rencontrer les membres des Tribus et des Peuples descendant des premiers habitants de ce pays, qui ont souhaité à maintes reprises que je vienne et qui sont maintenant réunis en grand nombre en cette circonstance festive. Je voudrais exprimer ma reconnaissance à l’Assemblée des Premières Nations, à la Tapirisat Inuit du Canada, au Conseil national des Métis et au Conseil des Autochtones du Canada pour leur collaboration à l’organisation de cette visite. Je vous salue tous dans l’amour de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ. Une fois encore, je proclame votre dignité d’hommes et de chrétiens, et je vous apporte mon soutien dans vos efforts pour répondre à votre vocation temporelle et éternelle.

2. "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near" (Is 55, 6). These words from the first reading are a pressing invitation to raise your thoughts to the Father, from whom all good gifts come, that He may continue to guide your destiny as Aboriginal peoples along the path of peace, in reconciliation with all others, in the experience of an effective solidarity on the part of the Church and of society in attaining your legitimate rights.

For untold generations, you the native peoples have lived in a relationship of trust with the Creator, seeing the beauty and the richness of the land as coming from his bountiful hand and as deserving wise use and conservation. Today you are working to preserve your traditions and consolidate your rights as Aboriginal peoples. In this circumstance today’s liturgy has a deep application.

3. The Prophet Isaiah is speaking to a people experiencing the sufferings of exile and yearning for rebirth, especially a renewal of the spirit through the rebirth of their culture and traditions. He seeks to console them and strengthen them in their task by reminding them that the Lord is not far from them (cf Is 55, 6-9).

But where is He to be found? How can we live in God’s presence? The Prophet indicates three steps for unveiling the presence of God in our personal and collective experience.

First, he says: “call him”. Yes, in prayer we will find the Lord. By calling upon him with trust you will discover that He is near.

But prayer must come from a pure heart. Consequently, the prophet launches a call to conversion: “turn to the Lord for mercy... to our God, who is generous in forgiving” (Is 55, 7).

And finally, we are called to transform our lives by learning to walk in the ways of the Lord: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Is 55, 9). The covenant between God and his people is constantly renewed when they invoke his merciful forgiveness and keep his commandments. God is our God and we are more and more his people.

4. In the Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of the owner of an estate who goes out at different hours to hire workers for his land (cf Mat 20, 1-16). The parable portrays the unlimited generosity of God, who is concerned about providing for the needs of all people. It is the landowner’s compassion for the poor - in this case, the unemployed - that compels him to pay all the workers a wage that is calculated not only according to the laws of the market-place, but according to the real needs of each one.

Life in God’s kingdom is based on a true sense of solidarity, sharing and community. His is a kingdom of justice, peace and love. It is our task to build a society in which these Gospel values will be applied to every concrete situation and relationship.

5. Today, this parable of cultivating the Lord’s vineyard presents a real challenge to Aboriginal nations and communities. As native peoples you are faced with a supreme test: that of promoting the religious, cultural and social values that will uphold your human dignity and ensure your future well-being. Your sense of sharing, your understanding of human community rooted in the family, the highly valued relationships between your elders and your young people, your spiritual view of creation which calls for responsible care and protection of the environment - all of these traditional aspects of your way of life need to be preserved and cherished.

This concern with your own native life in no way excludes your openness to the wider community. It is a time for reconciliation, for new relationships of mutual respect and collaboration in reaching a truly just solution to unresolved issues.

6. Above all, I pray that my visit may be a time of comfort and encouragement for the Catholic communities among you. The pioneering efforts of the missionaries - to whom once again the Church expresses her profound and lasting gratitude - have given rise among you to living communities of faith and Christian life. The challenge is for you to become more active in the life of the Church. I understand that Bishop Croteau and the other bishops of the North are seeking ways of revitalizing the local Churches so that you may become ever more effective witnesses of God’s kingdom of love, justice, peace, forgiveness and human solidarity.

My dear Indian, Inuit and Metis friends, I appeal to all of you, especially the young people, to accept roles of responsibility and to contribute your talents to building up the Church among your peoples. I ask all the elders, leaders and parents to encourage and support vocations to the priesthood and religious life. In this way the Church will become ever more at home in your own cultures, evangelizing and strengthening your traditional values and customs.

7. I have come today, dear brothers and sisters, to proclaim to you Jesus Christ and to proclaim that he is your friend and your Saviour. In his name, with the love of the Good Shepherd, I repeat the words of the second reading: "Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ" (Phil 1, 27). By doing this, Christ will be exalted in all your actions (cf Phil 1, 20), and his peace will reign in your hearts.

We are about to renew our baptismal promises. This is a solemn moment. By rejecting sin and evil, and by renewing our trust in the power of Christ’s saving mysteries, we are, in fact, reaffirming our covenant with God. He is our God, and we are his people.

As we commit ourselves further to God’s ways, may we be filled with the spiritual joy of Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer and our Mother in the faith. May her words express the deepest sentiments of our own hearts:

“My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit finds in God my saviour...
God who is mighty has done great things for me,
holy is his name” (Lk 1, 46-47. 49). Amen.


© Copyright 1987 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana