John Paul II’s addresses to Native Americans

On April 21, 2018 Richard Rohr mentioned John Paul II’s addresses to Native Americans

Pope John Paul II meets with Native American Catholics to acknowledge the injustices committed against them.

Cue Card preview image


Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix  Monday, 14 September 1987


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

  1. I have greatly looked forward to this visit with you, the original peoples of this vast country. I greet you with love and respectI thank you for inviting me to be with you and for sharing with me some aspects of your rich and ancient culture.

I have listened to your concerns and hopes. As your representatives spoke, I traced in my heart the history of your tribes and nations, the noble descendants of countless generations of inhabitants of this land, whose ways were marked by great respect for the natural resources of land and rivers, of forest and plain and desert. Here your forefathers cherished and sought to pass on to each new generation their customs and traditions, their history and way of life. Here they worshipped the Creator and thanked him for his gifts. In contact with the forces of nature they learned the value of prayer, of silence and fasting, of patience and courage in the face of pain and disappointment.

  1. The early encounter between your traditional cultures and the European way of life was an event of such significance and change that it profoundly influences your collective life even today. That encounter was a harsh and painful reality for your peoples. The cultural oppression, the injustices, the disruption of your life and of your traditional societies must be acknowledged.

(There are also) missionaries who strenuously defended the rights of the original inhabitants of this land. They worked to improve living conditions and set up educational systems, learning your languages in order to do so. Above all, they proclaimed the Good News…an essential part of which is that all men and women are equally children of God and must be respected and loved as such. 

Unfortunately not all the members of the Church lived up to their Christian responsibilities… Now, we are called to learn from the mistakes of the past and we must work together for reconciliation and healing, as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  1. It is time to think of the present and of the future. Today, people are realizing more and more clearly that we all belong to the one human family, and are meant to walk and work together in mutual respect, understanding, trust and love. Within this family each people preserves and expresses its own identity and enriches others with its gifts of culture, tradition, customs, stories, song, dance, art and skills.

From the very beginning, the Creator bestowed his gifts on each people. It is clear that stereotyping. prejudice, bigotry and racism demean the human dignity which comes from the hand of the Creator and which is seen in variety and diversity. I encourage you, as native people belonging to the different tribes and nations in the East, South, West and North, to preserve and keep alive your cultures, your languages, the values and customs which have served you well in the past and which provide a solid foundation for the future. Your customs that mark the various stages of life, your love for the extended family, your respect for the dignity and worth of every human being, from the unborn to the aged, and your stewardship and care of the earth: these things benefit not only yourselves but the entire human family.

…We should all be grateful for the growing unity, presence, voice and leadership of Catholic Native Americans in the Church today.

  1. I would like to repeat what I said at my meeting with native peoples at the Shrine of Saint Anne de Beaupré during my visit to Canada in 1984: “(You have) enriched the Church. We are well aware that this has not taken place without its difficulties.” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II,Allocutio ad indigenas populationes Canadenses, 3, die 10 sept. 1984:Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VII/2 [1984] 407). The American Bishops’ Statement on Native Americans rightly attests that our Catholic faith is capable of thriving ” within each culture, within each nation” (Statement of 4 May 1977).

Here too I wish to urge the local Churches to be truly “catholic” in their outreach to native peoples, and to show respect and honor for their culture and all their worthy traditions. …I call upon your native Catholic communities to work together to share their faith and their gifts, to work together on behalf of all…There is much to be done in solving common problems…You have endured much over hundreds of years and your difficulties are not yet at an end. Continue taking steps towards true human progress and towards reconciliation…

  1. One day Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it to the full” (Io. 10, 10).

Surely, the times has come for the native peoples of America to have a new life…

A life in justice and full human dignity!

A life of pride in their own good traditions, and of fraternal solidarity among themselves and with all their brothers and sisters in America!

A deeper life in charity and grace, leading to the fullness of eternal life…

All consciences must be challenged. There are real injustices to be addressed and biased attitudes to be changed…You must continue to grow in respect for your own inalienable human dignity, for the gifts of Creation and Redemption…You must unyieldingly pursue your spiritual and moral goals. You must trust in your own future…you are called to become instruments of the healing power of Christ’s love, instruments of his peace. May the Church in your midst – your own community of faith and fellowship – truly bear witness to new life.

1993 Open Letter to Pope John Paul II

In a special message to American Indians in Santa Domingo on October 13, 1992, you observed that it is impossible to forget “the enormous sufferings” of the Indian peoples during the “conquest and colonization” of Americas. You also pledged that the church will work to defend Indian rights. We applaud your statement, for it was the important step toward healing and the restoration of Native spiritual traditions.

Five hundred years ago, your predecessor, Pope Alexander VI, issued the now famous Inter Caetera bull. That papal decree expressed the pope’s desire that “barbarous nations,” those “discovered,” be “subjugated” and reduced to the Catholic faith and Christian religion. He said that in this way, the “Christian empire” would be propagated. The Inter Caetera bull was in direct line with an earlier bull issued in 1452 by Pope Nicholas V to King Alfonso V of Portugal, which called upon the king, “to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans, whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ.” Pope Nicholas also directed Alfonso to take away and convert the non-Christians’ possessions and property,” and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.”

Now in 1993, the “International Year of the World’s Indigenous People,” as declared by the United Nations, our spiritual elders tell us that it is time for the Age of Subjugation to end. During that age, the traditional nations and peoples of the Western Hemisphere have endured what historian David Stannard has referred to as the worst holocaust in the history of humanity. For many of us it still continues. It is now time to acknowledge that the papal documents mentioned above directly contributed to our suffering, misery, and to the genocide committed against us.

We therefore call upon you, with all respect that you deserve as the head of the Vatican City State and as the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church, to formally revoke—in a bilateral ceremony with our spiritual elders and representatives—the Inter Caetera bull of May 4, 1493. By doing so, you will thereby demonstrate your solidarity with indigenous nations and peoples throughout the world.

The revocation will not only show your love and affection, but also your willingness to honor and respect our inherit rights to liberty, justice and peace. Your action will also show that the Catholic Church supports and defends the territorial ownership and integrity of our nations and our desire to be free of all forms of subjugation. You will thereby align yourself with our efforts to revitalize and to restore our own spiritual way of life, in keeping with the natural laws given to each of our respective nations by the Creator.

Also, because they are vitally necessary to our healing and spiritual restoration, we respectfully offer the following points:

1) For generations now, the Church has taught our people that our own ceremonial traditions are “heathen” and “pagan.” Many of us have been taught to fear, ridicule and even deny our own family members who follow traditional ceremonial practices. Your revocation of the papal bull will begin to remove this legacy of fear and judgment from the hearts and minds of our people.

2) Scores of our nations perished. Many of our languages have been completely destroyed. In parochial boarding schools the Church forbade our children from speaking their own language, often inflicting allusive punishments on those children “caught” doing one of the most natural things of all: speaking their own mother tongue. It is now time for one Vatican to support the restoration of the Native languages that the Church worked so hard to destroy, before it is too late and those languages vanish.

3) It is time for the Vatican to support the healing of the deep and lasting emotional and spiritual scars that it had inflicted on our nations and peoples. We call upon the Church to provide practical support for “unresolved historical grief” work. 

4) Does the Vatican hold the human remains of indigenous people in its archives? Does it possess many of our sacred objects? We call upon the Vatican to return all such skeletal remains to our communities, so that they may be given proper traditional burials. We also call upon the Vatican to immediately return any of our sacred objects that it has in its possession. 

5) We call upon the Catholic Church to open the Vatican archives to us so that our scholars may study what those records reveal about our past.

6) The Church is now holding portions of our lands which nation-state governments “gave” to the Church. It is now time to restore those lands to their rightful indigenous owners.

7) The revocation will support the restoration of our sacred lands which at present are being unjustly and unlawfully occupied, lands such as the Black Hills of the Lakota and their allied nations, Newe Segobia of the Western Shoshone Nation, and Mount Graham of the Apache Nation, to name just a few.

8) History also reveals that the Church persecuted women of Earth-centered spiritual traditions through the Inquisition and other repressive campaigns in Europe as well as in the Western Hemisphere. Untold women and children suffered and died from this unspeakable mistreatment. The revocation will enable the Church to deal honestly, candidly and openly with these shadows of its history. Such disclosure is a difficult yet necessary step toward the healing that now needs to occur for the sake of all beings.

We hereby invite you and your official representatives to meet with us for in international summit of indigenous nations, so that we may discuss these and other issues face-to-face, heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind. For the sake of our healing, the healing of Mother Earth and the benefit of the future generations, we ask you not to turn your heart away from us.

In conclusion, we are writing you this letter because you have demonstrated to the world community that you are a person of great vision. We invite you to walk with us on the Sacred Path toward the healing of historical guilt, grief and shame. With the ceremonial revocation we will honor the indigenous principle: “Respect the Earth as Mother, and have a Sacred Regard for All Living Things.”

All Our Relations,

Birgil Kills Straight and Steven T. Newcomb

Maria Braveheart Jordan, Marcola, Ore.


(SEPTEMBER 9-20, 1984)



Martyrs’ Shrine (Huronia)
Saturday, 15 September 1984

 Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

1. Chay! With this traditional Huron word of welcome I greet you all. And I greet you, too, in the name of Jesus Christ who loves you and who has called you out “of every race, language, people and nation” (Apoc. 5, 9) to be one in his Body the Church. Truly, Canadians are a people of many races and languages, and thus it gives me great joy to pray with you at this holy place, the Martyrs’ Shrine, which stands as a symbol of the unity of faith in a diversity of cultures. I greet those of you who have come from the far North and the rural areas of Ontario, those from the cities to the South, those from outside Ontario and from the United States as well. And in a special way I greet the native peoples of Canada, the descendants of the first inhabitants of this land, the North American Indians.

2. We are gathered at this site in Midland which is of great importance in the history of Canada and in the history of the Church. Here was once located the Shrine of St. Marie which one of my predecessors, Pope Urban VIII, designated in 1644 as a place of pilgrimage, the first of its kind in North America. Here the first Christians of Huronia found a “house of prayer and a home of peace”. And here today stands the Martyrs’ Shrine, a symbol of hope and faith, a symbol of the triumph of the Cross. The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which we have just heard, helps us to understand the meaning of this holy place, and what it was that gave the martyrs the courage to lay down their lives in this land. It helps us to understand the power that attracted the native peoples to the faith. And this power was “the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8, 39).

3. Saint Paul also tells us how firmly he believed in the love of Christ and in its power to overcome all obstacles: “Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ” (Ibid. 8, 35). These are words which proceed from the very depths of his being and out of his personal experience as an Apostle. For this great missionary faced many trials and difficulties in his zealous efforts to proclaim the Gospel. To the Corinthians, he writes: “I have been in danger from rivers and in danger from brigands, in danger from my own people and in danger from pagans; in danger in the towns, in danger in the open country, danger at sea and danger from so-called brothers. I have worked and labored, often without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty and often starving; I have been in the cold without clothes, and, to leave out much more, there is my daily preoccupations: my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11, 26-28).

And yet, Paul glories in these hardships and says of the, “These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us” (Rom. 8, 37). All these hardships he gladly bears because he is convinced of the love of Christ, and that nothing can ever separate him from that love.

4. A similar confidence in God’s love guided the lives of the Martyrs who are honored at this Shrine. They, like Paul, had come to consider the love of Christ as the greatest of all treasures. And they, too, believed that the love of Christ was so strong that nothing could separate them from it, not even persecution and death. The North American Martyrs, then, gave up their lives for the sake of the Gospel – in order to bring the faith to the native people whom they served. In fact, we are told that their faith was so strong that they yearned and prayed for the grace of martyrdom. Let us recall for a moment these heroic saints who are honored in this place and who have left us a precious heritage.

Six of them were Jesuit priests from France: Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, Gabriel Lalemant, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier and Noël Chabanel. Fired with love for Christ and inspired by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier and other great saints of the Society of Jesus, these priests came to the New World to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the native peoples of this land. And they persevered to the end despite difficulties of every sort.

Two lay brothers were part of the missionary group: René Goupil and Jean de la Lande. With no less courage and fervour, they assisted the priests in their labours, showed great compassion and care for the Indians, and, laying down their lives, won for themselves the martyr’s crown.

And as these missionaries laid down their lives, they looked forward to a day when the native people would enjoy full maturity and exercise leadership in their Church. St. John de Brébeuf dreamed of a Church fully Catholic and fully Huron as well.

A young woman of Alonquin and Mohawk ancestry also deserves special recognition today: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Who has not heard of her outstanding witness of purity and holiness of life? It was my personal joy, only four years ago, to beatify this woman of great courage and faith, who is known by many as the “Lily of the Mohawks”. To those who came to Rome for her beatification I said: “Blessed Kateri stands before us as a symbol of the best of the heritage that is yours as North American Indians” (June 24, 1980).

5. As we are gathered in prayer today at the Martyr’s Shrine, we remember the many efforts of the Church, beginning three and a half centuries ago, to bring the Gospel of Christ into the lives of the native peoples of North America. The Martyrs honored here are only a small representation of the many men and women who took part in this great missionary effort. We wish to pay tribute as well to all those who joyfully embraced the Christian faith, like Blessed Kateri, and who remained faithful despite many trials and difficulties. Of great importance to the Church of Huronia is Joseph Chiwatenwa, who together with his wife Aonnetta, his brother Joseph and other family members lived and witnessed to their faith in an heroic manner. Their fidelity is yet another testimony to the truth attested to by the Apostle Paul: “Nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ”. A statue now commemorates the life and mission of Joseph Chiwatenwa. Particularly striking is the testimony of Saint Charles Garnier on the inscription: “It was in this Christian that we had our hope after God”. These men and women not only professed the faith and embraced Christ’s love, but they in turn became evangelizers and provide even today eloquent models for lay ministry.

We also recall how the worthy traditions of the Indian tribes were strengthened and enriched by the Gospel message. These new Christians knew by instinct that the Gospel, far from destroying their authentic values and customs, had the power to purify and uplift the cultural heritage which they had received. During her long history, the Church herself has been constantly enriched by the new traditions which are added to her life and legacy.

And today we are grateful for the part that the native peoples play, not only in the multicultural fabric of Canadian society, but in the life of the Catholic Church. Christ himself is incarnate in his Body, the Church. And through her action, the Church desires to assist all people “to bring forth from their own living tradition original expressions of Christian life, celebration and thought” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II, Catchesi Tradendae, 53).

Thus the one faith is expressed in different ways. There can be no question of adulterating the word of God or of emptying the Cross of its power, but rather of Christ animating the very center of all culture. Thus, not only is Christianity relevant to the Indian people, but Christ, in the members of his Body, is himself Indian.

And the revival of Indian culture will be a revival of those true values which they have inherited and which are purified and ennobled by the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Through his Gospel Christ confirms the native peoples in their belief in God, their awareness of his presence, their ability to discover him in creation, their dependence on him, their desire to worship him, their sense of gratitude for the land, their responsible stewardship of the earth, their reverence for all his great works, their respect for their elders. The world needs to see these values – and so many more that they possess – pursued in the life of the community and made incarnate in a whole people.

Finally, it is in the Eucharistic sacrifice that Christ, joined with his members, offers up to his Father all that makes up their lives and cultures. In his Sacrifice he consolidates all his people in the unity of his Church and calls us all to reconciliation and peace.

As we go forward, let us commend ourselves to the intercession of the North American Martyrs, to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Saint Joseph, Patron of Canada, and all the Saints, together with Mary the Queen of Saints. And in union with the whole Church – in the richness of her diversity and in the power of her unity – let us all proclaim by the witness of our own lives that “neither death nor life… nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8, 38-39).

© Copyright 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana


The pope is back in Rome this morning after a sometimes grueling 10-day visit to the United States. As NBC’s Stan Bernard reports, the trip concluded Sunday with a 2500-mile detour to visit Indians in a remote part of Canada.

STAN BERNARD, reporting:

John Paul kept the 3-year old promise. Fog prevented his plane from landing at Fort Simpson in a 1984 tour of Canada. Last fall, a delegation of these Indians came to the Vatican and had an audience, during which they said they needed a visit. The pope then said he would be here. So, at the end of his tour of the U.S., he tagged on this 2500-mile detour to Fort Simpson, just 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. This is a stunning contrast to the cities he visited in the past 10 days. 4000 Indians of the Dene Nation came to Fort Simpson to offer a prayer of thanksgiving and be led in that prayer by the pope they call “Yatita” or “Father of Fathers”. The Dene Nation claims 450,000 square miles of this region, but negotiations with the Canadians for self-government have broken down. The Pope kept his word. He came and supported their right to govern themselves. One of their elders said that was all they wanted. Stan Bernard, NBC
News, Fort Simpson, Canada

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