Bishop of Sault Ste. Marie Thomas Dowd says his church feels "shock, grief and compassion" in response to the tragic news in Kamloops where the remains of 215 children were found on the site of a residential school in the B.C. city.
A local Catholic church is encouraging residents to place children's shoes on the Pro Cathedral of Assumption front steps to honour the tragedy as the churches were responsible for the residential schools in partnership with the Federal Government.
See related: Little Shoes at Pro Cathedral honour Kamloops #215
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Kamloops Indian Residential School was run by the Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.
"Since the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School I have been struggling to find the words to address the tragedy and the shock, confusion and anger felt by so many, including myself," Dowd said in a statement from the Church.
"And then, just yesterday, I learned that people have been leaving small pairs of shoes on the steps of our diocesan Pro-Cathedral in North Bay.
"Things hit people differently. For me, the fact of the deaths at the residential school was bad enough, but even worse was the lack of respect paid to those who died. Honestly, why on earth would ground-penetrating radar have to be used to locate the remains of these children? The dead are not meant to be anonymous, or forgotten."
As for the shoes, Dowd says the church welcomes the gesture.
"These shoes on these steps are a sign of remembrance and create a place for people to grieve," he said.
"They also call us all to compassion, to have hearts ready to suffer with those who suffer at the enormity of the loss the shoes represent. Jesus himself invited us to be compassionate as God is compassionate. In that sense, these shoes represent something deeply holy."
Dowd invites Catholics to receive the recent news not just as a discovery but as a revelation.
"We can be sure that more revelations like those from Kamloops will come, from all across Canada, and when they do we must be ready with hearts full of sorrow and compassion," he stated.
"As for me, I want to offer my deepest sympathies to the families and communities of those deceased children buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and to offer my sincere apology to all our Indigenous peoples, particularly those in this diocese whose culture and heritage I am now discovering. Honestly, I am not sure what that apology is worth, given that I am only one man and only recently arrived here, but no matter what you have my pledge to learn from you, to listen to you, and to walk with you."