Catholics in the Diocese of Prince Albert joined the local Anglican bishop and others across Saskatchewan and the country to pray for the victims and survivors of a series of stabbing attacks on the James Smith First Nation and the nearby town of Weldon, Saskatchewan.
Among the 11 dead is one of the alleged perpetrators, Damien Sanderson, who is believed to have performed the September 4 morning party in communities near Prince Albert with his brother Myles. The two communities are approximately 12 miles apart.
At least 18 people were injured.
The Diocese of St. Albert asked its Facebook followers Sept. 4 to “pray with (Anglican) Bishop (Michael) Hawkins and the James Smith and Weldon First Nation community.” Bishop Hawkins led a prayer vigil which was recorded and posted on social media. The presence of the Anglican Church is strong in the Cree community, and the James Smith Cree Nation is home to St. Stephen’s Anglican Church.
“Like all of you, I am in shock at the news this morning and today of the untold tragedy at James Smith and Weldon’s reserve,” Bishop Hawkins said. “It’s hard to imagine the terror, grief, worry, grief and trauma of families and individuals.”
The Bishop alluded to the April visit of Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, who visited the Cree community. Archbishop Welby met with residential school survivors and First Nations elders at the Bernard Constant Community School of the James Smith Cree Nation.
“At the time, Archbishop Justin referred to the residential school experience and legacy as ‘living hell,’” Bishop Hawkins said. “It is certain that what the people of James Smith have gone through today, and are living now, is a living hell.”
Archbishop Welby directly responded to the horrific attacks in a September 5 Twitter post.
“Having visited the James Smith Cree Nation earlier this year, I am appalled and deeply saddened by the fatal stabbings there and across Saskatchewan this weekend. I mourn with the community and pray that God comforts all who are going through such unimaginable anguish,” Bishop Welby said.
The series of stabbings shocked the country and sparked alerts across Saskatchewan and neighboring provinces of Manitoba and Alberta, as police originally searched for two brothers suspected of carrying out the attacks. On September 5, police had narrowed the search to one suspect – Myles Sanderson – while his brother was found among the dead in James Smith.
By the registry deadline of September 6, the suspect had not been apprehended, but police had alerted James Smith Cree Nation residents to shelter in place after reporting a possible sighting of the suspicious.
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools released a statement of prayer and support and offered support to affected students.
“We at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools are deeply disturbed and saddened by news of the tragic events that occurred at James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon over the weekend. We pray for the souls of those who have been killed, for a speedy recovery of the injured and for the comfort of God the Creator for those who mourn.
Schools have opened, but the council said it understands if ‘parents don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school’.
The Catholic Register contacted St. Mary’s Parish in Weldon for comment, but was told the parish priest would not be available to speak by the deadline. The diocese was also preparing to issue a statement.
Amundson reports for The Catholic Register, Toronto.
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