The Memory of Pope St. John Paul II’s Affection for Native Peoples Is Unassailable

COMMENTARY: The recent vandalism of a statue of John Paul II in Canada is both puzzling and disturbing because he was a staunch supporter of Aboriginal rights.

Vandalized statue of Pope John Paul II at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Edmonton.
Vandalized statue of Pope John Paul II at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Edmonton. (photo: Screenshot of Edmonton Crime Report's Facebook page, last visited July 27, 2021.)

An Oxford student is quoted as having said, “I despise all Americans but I have never met one I didn’t like.” Personal experience had no effect on the young man’s prejudice. Nonetheless, he offers us a crystal clear example of the nature of prejudice as forming an opinion without bothering with the facts. 

“Prejudice is the child of ignorance,” said William Hazlitt. But it is a child that can grow up and take on the mantle of terrorism. Prejudice may seem innocuous to some, but it can threaten the welfare of society.

On June 26, the statue of Pope St. John Paul II, which welcomed parishioners of predominantly Polish descent to Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Edmonton, Alberta, was vandalized with red paint. Police said the incident happened around 11:10pm when a woman was seen vandalizing the statue. The Edmonton Police Service Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit was notified. 

Karol Wojtyla grew up in the midst of fascism and communism, and therefore knew what true evil is. It is sad that people are growing up today not knowing what true holiness is. The memory of Pope John Paul II is unassailable.

Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton expressed his sadness concerning the vandalism: “The parishioners of Holy Rosary parish and the people of the Archdiocese of Edmonton stand with the Indigenous Peoples in this moment of profound sorrow. He also stated, “The Church extols the equal human dignity of all people and defends the right to uphold their own cultural character with its distinct traditions and customs.” The bishop was not indicting Indigenous people for the vandalism as much as pointing out that whatever the case, they should be regarded as neighbors and not as enemies. 

The vandalism of the statue follows a long line of terrorist acts against the Catholic Church, including the burning to the ground of at least four Catholic churches. In some instances, these acts were perpetrated by people seeking revenge for what they believed to be mistreatment by Catholics associated with residential schools. If the strike against St. John Paul II was in any way associated with Indigenous people, it is both puzzling and disturbing because he was a staunch supporter of Aboriginal rights. 

On Sept. 20, 1987, the Holy Father addressed his “Dear Aboriginal Brothers and Sisters” in Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories. He began his address with the following words of friendship: 

“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 State 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”.

John Paul was not the first pope to affirm the dignity and rights of aboriginal people. 

In the year 1537, at the very dawn of the Church’s presence in the New World, Pope Paul III proclaimed the rights of the native people and affirmed their dignity, defended their freedom, and asserted that they could not be enslaved or deprived of their goods or ownership at the risk of excommunication (Pastorale Officium, May 29, 1537).

Pope John Paul’s presence in 1987 was his reaffirmation and reassertion of that consistent Church teaching: 

“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.”

According to Canadian law, the kind vandalism that occurred at Holy Rosary Church is an act of terrorism, as well as a “hate crime.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been ineffective in putting an end to this extended series of terrorist acts against the Catholic Church. He stated that the carnage was “understandable.” 

Moreover, when a journalist representing Rebel News confronted Trudeau on his moral inertia and shrugging off the violent acts against the Church as “understandable,” she was “manhandled” by the prime minister’s bodyguards. A letter of protest has been sent to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Prejudice, if not checked at the source, can escalate to hate, vandalism, arson, and terrorism. People in Canada, indigenous and non-indigenous, should read and re-read what Pope St. John Paul II had said in his 1987 address. His closing words hardly incite a disparaging and violent response: 

“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’ (Ephesians 1:17). In the love of the Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, I bless each one of you, and pray for the peace and happiness of your families, your bands and you nations. God be with you all!”