This week, two Catholic churches serving Canada’s First Nations peoples were destroyed by apparent arson, according to authorities.
Sacred Heart on Penticton Indian Band Territory and St. Gregory’s on Osoyoos Band Land, near Oliver, were both on land belonging to First Nations communities in British Columbia. According to firefighters, they were turned to ashes early Monday morning with the use of a “liquid accelerant” in what local authorities are calling “suspicious” fires.
“A Penticton RCMP officer was on patrol on June 21, 2021, at 1:22 a.m., when he noticed fire coming from the Sacred Heart Church on Green Mountain Road. The church was totally consumed by the time the officer reached on scene, according to a press release issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on June 22.
“The Oliver RCMP were notified at 3:10 a.m. that St. Gregory’s Church on Ni’mip Road was on fire.”
The distance between the two churches was roughly 34.5 miles.
Sgt Jason Bayda, Media Relations Officer for the Penticton South Okanagan RCMP, stated, “Should our investigations deem these fires as arson, the RCMP will be looking at all possible motives and allowing the facts and evidence to direct our investigative action.”
“We are aware of the recent events, but we will refrain from speculating on a motive.”
One Canadian priest who works with First Nations people was irritated by the refusal to label the church burnings as hate crimes. The priest, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, is well-known to LifeSiteNews.
“Why is it that when two Catholic churches are burned (as they were recently), the words on the news are ‘police are investigating the cause…’ but it’s a hate crime when a mosque or synagogue is burned?” He inquired, then responded, “It’s because there’s an unspoken prejudice that it’s okay for Catholics to suffer.”
However, many people are unaware that the Catholics who suffer when their churches are torn down on First Nations property are themselves First Nations people.
“The arsonist obliterated the community’s entire religious history,” the priest added.
“Baptisms, marriages, and first communions. Many indigenous people have been harmed by arsonists who are pleased to practice their Catholic faith.”
The communities concerned are upset, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
In a statement, the Penticton Indian Band said, “We, along with the Osoyoos Indian Band… are in disbelief and anger over these occurrences as these places of worship provided service to members who sought comfort and solace in the church.”
“This is a new wound that will take time to heal and interpret our emotions, but we will continue to support the investigation.”
According to the CBC, the Nigerian pastor of Penticton’s Catholic parishes, Father Obi Ibekwe, has stated that the Sacred Heart community will not comment on the incident until the RCMP has completed their investigation.
According to a CBC report, Bob Graham, chief of Oliver’s volunteer fire department, believes that a type of “liquid accelerant” was used and that the fire was “set” “by looking at the scene and the surroundings.”
Erin O’Toole, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, described the flames as “disturbing.”
“Today’s news in British Columbia is concerning. As the investigation into this atrocity continues, my thoughts are with the Catholic community. Violent and destructive attacks against any faith group in Canada are intolerable,” O’Toole tweeted.
The fires were started in response to extensive media coverage of the unmarked graves discovered at the now-defunct Kamloops Indian Residential School in May. The Catholic Church ran the school from 1890 to 1969, and the federal government disbanded it in 1977.
Despite the fact that the residential school system was established by the secular government in the 19th century and was thereafter badly underfunded by the state, and despite the fact that several religious groups were invited to manage the schools, the Catholic Church has recently come under fire.
In the 1920s, when the government mandated school attendance, children were forcibly removed from their homes and parents were threatened with prison if they did not comply. Children rarely saw their family when they arrived at school, with many vanishing or never seeing them again.
During the media frenzy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slammed the Church for its role in Kamloops and the wider school system, saying, “Make it clear that we expect the Church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this and be there to help in the grieving and the healing, including with records as necessary.” It’s something we’ve been waiting for the Catholic Church to accomplish for a long time.”
Indeed, the Catholic Church in Canada – as well as in Rome – has admitted that certain Catholics were responsible for the residential school system.
Between 2008 and 2015, the Catholic Church participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools, and various bishops, including Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, and religious institutes, including the Jesuits, delivered apologies to Canada’s indigenous peoples. In April 2009, Pope Benedict XVI met with officials from the First Nations and “expressed sorrow” for the mistreatment that children were subjected to in schools.
The Holy Father expressed his grief at the anguish caused by the abominable behaviour of some members of the Church, and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity, according to the Vatican Press Office at the time.
“His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse in society will not be tolerated. He prayed for healing for all those afflicted, and he encouraged First Nations peoples to keep moving forward with newfound hope.”
Before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, several Catholic apologies were made. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who staffed the most residential schools, issued a full apology in 1991, saying, “For the part that we played, however inadvertent and naive that participation may have been, in the setting up and maintaining of a system that stripped others of not only their lands but also of their cultural, linguistic, and religious identities.”
Following the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former school, Pope Francis, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Edmonton Archbishop Smith, and Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller all expressed fresh solidarity with Canada’s indigenous people.
Despite all of the reconciliation efforts undertaken by the Canadian Catholic Church, LifeSite’s priest-source fears that more First Nations Catholics may lose their parishes.
He said, “You might be interested to know that the church in Cowessess [a First Nations community in Saskatchewan] burned down a couple of years ago.”