A small shrine remembering the 215 Indigenous children whose graves were recently discovered in Kamloops now adorns a fence outside the Martyrs’ Shrine.
Teddy bears, flowers, sneakers and tiny handmade moccasins are just a few of the items dotting the Shrine’s west gate these days.
“People have come and they've left things,” said Father Michael Knox, director of the Shrine that honours the Canadian Martyrs’ (six Jesuit priests and two lay persons).
And since the Shrine is currently closed to the general public due to COVID-19, Knox said they’re unable to hold a public prayer service to honour the children.
“The fathers have been praying every day,” said Knox. “In our community, in the Jesuit chapel, obviously, this has been very much on our mind.”
While the items left outside serve as a reminder of residential schools and “the tragedy around” the discovery of unmarked graves at a British Columbia school, Knox said people often come throughout the season, especially with the Shrine remaining closed.
“They’re leaving flowers or they're leaving candles, and they're coming to pray at the west gate,” he said. “And looking up at the church because it's the perfect place. So it's kind of like they can have their pilgrimage moment.
“I still see little candles everywhere and things that others have left from when they came to pray for something else, (perhaps) a loved one.”
Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto (which covers this area) addressed the discovery at the former residential school in a statement and conducted mass in honour of those who died or were abused at residential schools and for all those who deal with the intergenerational trauma caused by this system.
“In recent days, the country has been shocked, saddened and angered by the discovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves who attended a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia,” Collins wrote.
“We pray for the children who died in Kamloops and in residential schools throughout the country – they must not be forgotten.
“We must also recognize the betrayal of trust by many Catholic leaders who were responsible for operating residential schools, abandoning their obligation to care for young and innocent children.”
Collins goes on to note that “this tragic discovery provides yet another opportunity for us to learn more about this dark chapter in our history and the painful journey experienced by so many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
But Collins said there is more work still to be done.
“Since the 1990s, many of the Catholic entities responsible for the operation of residential schools have apologized publicly for their actions and have journeyed together with victims on the path to truth and reconciliation,” Collins wrote.
“This includes the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the religious order that operated the residential school in Kamloops, which over the weekend again apologized for its role in the residential school system.”
Collins further points out that Pope Benedict XVI also had the chance to meet with Indigenous leaders in 2009 to personally express his sorrow and anguish.
“These actions do not erase our history; they acknowledge our past, force us to face the consequences of our behaviour and compel us to ensure that our sins are not repeated,” said Collins.
“While the Archdiocese of Toronto did not operate residential schools, we join with the Indigenous peoples, the Catholic community and Canadians from coast to coast to coast in a period of collective grief for those who are physically, emotionally and spiritually wounded.”