The long road to truth and reconciliation

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday this year. Sufficient reason for Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider to address the issue of peace and reconciliation with the country’s indigenous peoples. A look at a special gathering …

Today, they are called First Nations. The term highlights the fact that the indigenous peoples now have a status that can invoke the protection of international law. The First Nations are more than a minority that deserves special protection. They were already in Canada when it was not yet white, not yet europeanised. The land, the rivers, the trees, everything—it was all theirs, the many indigenous peoples of this huge country in North America.

On his recent trip to the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, Chief Apostle Schneider had ample opportunity to listen to the concerns and desires of these people. He met with a delegation of the First Nations. The leaders spoke with him about peace and reconciliation, told him about their history, and expressed their hope that today’s generations will be able to look back on the country’s history with respect.

A dark chapter

In the nineteenth century more than a 150,000 native children were forcibly removed from their families and sent across the country to residential schools. They were to be acquainted with the customs of mainstream society and receive a Christian upbringing. That was the plan. At school they were considered foreigners. Mental, psychological, and physical abuse was rife. This is the conclusion reached by the Canadian government, which speaks of cultural genocide. On 11 June 2008, the then Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly apologised to the First Nations. That same year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established.

The gospel as a guiding principle

In his address to the First Nations leaders, the president of the New Apostolic Church International explained how very important this reconciliation process is. “As Christians it is our duty to share your worries and suffering. Today we are aware that it was precisely the Europeans and the Christians who brought so much suffering upon this country.” He made it very clear that such practices were by no means covered by the gospel of Jesus Christ: “On the contrary, the gospel is the foundation on which peace and reconciliation are built.” And then he referred to three basic truths of the gospel.

  • “Jesus Christ taught that human beings must love their neighbour as much as they love themselves.” The Church leader expressed his regret that it is exactly this guiding principle that is often forgotten by Christians.
  • Evil begins where money, power, prosperity, and personal honour take over. “If all of this is more important than the worries and cares of my neighbour, we are breaking the Golden Rule—loving your neighbour as yourself.” But those who stay with the gospel, will never forget their neighbour, he said.
  • Jesus Christ sacrificed His life so that all of mankind can be saved. “This love gives us the strength to overcome our differences.” Many people believe that the neighbour must change to meet our expectations. This way of thinking wants to eradicate differences, but this is not what the gospel teaches: “The gospel teaches us to respect the differences of others, to accept them as they are with their traditions, cultures, and biographical contexts.” Loving one’s neighbour means: “Love others as they are, and not as you would like them to be.”

Support through prayers

The Chief Apostle wished all participants God’s strength and blessing for the continuing road to truth and reconciliation. “These are not just words, this is what we feel,” he said with respect to himself and the invited New Apostolic guests. He assured them that he would accompany this process with prayers, and showed how serious he was about it.

Some of the First Nations leaders attended the divine service that the Chief Apostle celebrated in Saskatoon. In his prayer just before the celebration of Holy Communion for the departed, he interceded especially for the many First Nations victims who had suffered and died without the close bond to their home and their people—which is so important for them. The guests were very touched.

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Peter Johanning
Canada, journeys of Chief Apostle