People of many faiths and backgrounds came together to pray for a community struggling and divided after two recent trials in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The events surrounding the deaths of two indigenous young people — Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine — and the subsequent acquittal those on trial have caused profound pain, fuelled racial tension, prompted protests, and brought calls for justice reforms, said Rev. Scott Pittendrigh, dean and rector of St. John’s Cathedral, which hosted the event.
“Much of this has, once again, pointed to the larger story of the history of colonization; of residential schools and countless examples where indigenous people have been marginalized,” he said in his opening remarks, citing recent calls for justice, respectful dialogue, and concrete steps for peace and reconciliation.
Pittendrigh noted that community leaders had been consulted about the Feb. 25 vigil, including Harry Lafond, executive director of the Office of Treaty Commissioner, and Shirley Isbister, president of the Central Urban Metis Federation. He acknowledged “the history, spirituality and culture of the peoples with whom Treaty 6 was signed and the territory and traditional lands where this cathedral resides — and our responsibility as treaty members.”
Mary Culbertson, Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan, presented a reading from the Book of Habakkuk, “written by a prophet of God while living in the midst of a time of confusion and pain, when the people feared they had been forgotten by God.”
Sarah Donnelly, pastoral assistant at St. John’s Cathedral, led a response after the reading: “Let us not rush to the language of healing, before understanding the fullness of the injury and the depth of the wound. Let us not speak of reconciliation without speaking of reparations and restoration. Let us not be afraid to sit with the ugliness, the messiness, and the pain that is life in community together.”
Cecilia Rajanayagam of Emmanuel Baptist Church, and Seth Shacter of Congregation Agudas Israel both read selections from the book of Lamentations.
Myron Rogal, co-ordinator of the Office of Justice and Peace in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, offered a prayer after the first of the readings from Lamentations: “We mourn with those who are suffering the loss of precious members of their family. We pray for those whose lives have been irrevocably changed — those residents of the Red Pheasant and Mosquito communities, the communities of Biggar, and the Battlefords, and for all our communities, rural and urban, who live with suspicion, tension, fear and racism.”
Prayers were also said for those who serve the community — teachers, social workers, police officers, health care workers, politicians and other leaders. “Give them wisdom and strength as those whom we rely on to maintain composure, fairness, and a commitment to the common good,” said Rogal.
“We pray for healing in communities that carry the weight of generations of broken relationships between law enforcement and the people they are called to serve. We lament our country’s history of racism and pray for love in the face of violence.”
Lyndon Linklater of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner offered a prayer after the second reading from Lamentations: “God of the reserve and the city, of the jail cell and the street corner, of the classroom and the police car, look upon the world you have made. See how hatred and violence mars your creation. Gunshots ring out under the heavens that declare your glory, singing the destruction of your children. The clanging of cell doors ring out, tolling the lives stolen by systemic oppression and unspeakable violence.”
The assembly then prayed together: “Arise, O God, and defend the cause of your heart. Raise up in us the cries of outrage. Raise up in us commitment to the long struggle for justice. Raise up in us the determination to drive out racism. Raise up in us the grief that cannot be comforted. Raise up in us the courage to speak truth to power, and hope to hatred.”
After a time of silent prayer, Kumar Balachandran of the Hindu Society of Saskatchewan led a prayer for peace in Sanskrit and English, followed by a reading from the book of Micah by Sheila Cameron-Hopkins of Calvin Goforth Presbyterian Church.
“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” she concluded.
Rev. Karen Fraser Gitlitz, a Unitarian minister, led a prayer calling on the Creator to “be near to us in our lament. We pray for all communities of faith in our country, that we may be a voice of peace, a light of love, working for reconciliation and unity, working for justice. May we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters: all races, all skin colours, all ethnicities. May we stand against racism and injustice. May we stand for love.”
The assembly asked God for forgiveness, followed by a traditional prayer song by Linklater.
At the conclusion of the vigil, those in attendance were invited to come forward and light a candle and to continue in silent prayer if they wished.