by Jim Hodgson
As my penitential pilgrimage continued at a distance from that of Pope Francis, I found myself thinking increasingly of another pilgrimage. In October 1992, about 200 people joined the Canadian Ecumenical Presence (CEP) in Santo Domingo. As I could find almost nothing on the internet, I thought I should share something here. CEP became an ecumenical educational exposure experience beyond compare.
We were not yet using language of reconciliation – and indeed it may be premature still: much truth-telling still needed! – but we were wrestling with colonialism and its devastation in company with Indigenous people, descendants of enslaved peoples brought by force from Africa, and all people who struggle for liberation from contemporary colonialism that presents itself as globalized capitalism, indebtedness, human-trafficking and imperialism.
It all began on the back of an envelope. I met for lunch with two ecumenical friends: Joe Mihevc, then the Toronto animator for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, and Patti Talbot, then on the staff of the Canadian Churches’ Forum for Global Ministries. “The only paper we could find among the three of us to jot notes was an old envelope from my purse,” Patti recalled later.
Soon, we were joined by other friends: ecumenical activist and educator Betsy Anderson of the Latin American Working Group (LAWG); Suzanne Rumsey of LAWG and later the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America (ICCHRLA); Rosalee Bender who became our program staff coordinator; Juan Rivas, coordinator of the Dominican Republic Experience; and Joe Byrne from the Latin America Mission Program of the Diocese of Charlottetown.
From the time of the first CEP plan, the one drawn on the back of an envelope in a cafeteria, it had been our hope to be able to serve religious media by providing a relatively inexpensive place to stay, helping reporters get access to major events, and accompanying them in encounters with Dominicans who were working for change.
CEP participants who had media accreditation were able to attend some of the official CELAM events and news conferences. It was a question from a Mohawk radio producer, Eric Gabriel, that turned what might have been a series of carefully-staged news conferences into informative briefings: “Will the bishops’ conference apologize to native people, and if not, why not?” First, there was silence — a silence that is captured beautifully in the documentary which Vision-TV broadcast in December 1992. Then one of the bishops on the panel sputtered an incoherent and embarrassing response to this sensitive question. The fumble prompted the CELAM media office to plan a 90-minute briefing on the church’s role in Indigenous issues the following day, featuring clergy and lay people who were Indigenous or who worked with Indigenous people. A day later, a thorough briefing on the situation of women was offered.