One day after St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Canada reopened its doors for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus lockdowns, it was reduced to a pile of ash. Three more Catholic churches in the surrounding area burned down in the same week. All were located on Indigenous-claimed ground. While no suspects have been confirmed, Indigenous locals have recently expressed distaste and frustration against their Catholic neighbors.
On June 21, National Indigenous Day in Canada, Sacred Heart Church on Penticton Indian Band (PIB) land and St. Gregory’s Church on Osoyoos Indian Band land in Oliver burned down in what authorities called suspicious fires. The two fires happened within 90 minutes of each other. PIB Chief Greg Gabriel said the cause of the fires is not known, although he mentioned an indication of accelerant.
Two more Catholic churches burned down in western Canada early Saturday. St. Ann’s Church and Chopaka Church, both also near Indigenous communities, are located within an hour of each other in British Columbia.
Gabriel noted rising anger in Indigenous communities toward Catholics since the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation discovered the remains of 215 children on the grounds of a former Catholic-run school in May.
In a similar discovery last week, 751 bodies were found in unmarked graves atop the Marieval Indian Residential School, where the Cowessess First Nation is now located. The facilitators at Marieval — which was run by the Catholic Sisters of Saint Joseph of Saint-Hyacinthe — reportedly removed headstones from the graves when the school was still in operation. The discovery refueled already heightened tensions between Indigenous locals and the Catholic Church that had been escalating since May.
From the 19th century to the late 20th century, many Indigenous children in Canada were sent to state-funded Christian schools, most of which were run by Catholic missionaries. Many children passed away in the schools. The Canadian government has since apologized for the government policy and Pope Francis expressed his pain and pressed religious and political authorities to shed light on “this sad affair.”
“There is a lot of anger here now against
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