Father Jim Holland stands inside the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton/Photo Brandi Morin
APTN National News
EDMONTON — A petition is circulating in Edmonton to keep a pastor who helps inner city First Nations, Metis and Inuit at his current location.
Pastor Jim Holland, 72, also known as Father Jim, is the head of the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, the only Catholic church that has been declared an official national perish for First Nation, Metis and Inuit peoples.
For 20 years, Holland has worked to bridge gaps between the church and the Aboriginal community.
“I have built up a trust and a relationship,” said Holland. “Most of these people think that I belong to them, like I’m part of their family, because I am.”
He is now being transferred.
Holland recently learned from his superiors at the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate that he will be moved to an isolated community either in northern Saskatchewan or on Vancouver Island.
He said although he is getting up there in age, he still has good health and a passion to continue his work at Sacred Heart.
“What they want to do is take me out of here and bring those people in who don’t understand what’s going on here,” said Holland. “It doesn’t make any sense- it’s a total disrespect for our First Nations people because this is their home.”
The online petition titled “Appeal to the Catholic Diocese of Edmonton to keep Father Jim Holland as the Pastor of Sacred Heart” states that the removal of Holland from Sacred Heart will have a huge impact on the Aboriginal community.
It also states: “Sacred Heart Church is a world renowned church due to its unique and holistic services that it provides for the Aboriginal people in Edmonton and area. Aboriginal people from everywhere make it a priority to attend the services at Sacred Heart Church whenever they are in the City of Edmonton. The negative impacts of the residential schools system on Aboriginal people has created a deep rift on their faith, their trust and their ability to have a positive outlook with the Catholic Church. Father Jim Holland, however, has been the catalyst for restoring the Christian faith, and building trusting relationships between the Catholic Church and the aboriginal community within Edmonton and beyond.”
Edmonton First Nations artist Wayne Ashley started the paper petition and says that if Holland leaves, the church will lose a lot of its members because it’s not that easy to build up trust within the Aboriginal community.
“He’s always stood behind me and I see him with native culture and the way he implements it,” said Ashley. “And his understanding of the way we do things is original and somebody like that that put 20 years into the church should be respected and we as a people should respect it.”
Doris Tourangeau who signed the online petition and identified herself as a residential school survivor shared her sentiments toward Holland,
“Father Jim has been a spiritual force in my healing journey,” said Tourangeau. “He has shown me over the many years to be closer to my higher power I need to forgive…many thanks Father Jim for your kind and compassionate words they have always followed me on my journey of healing.”
“Most of these people think that I belong to them, like I’m part of their family, because I am.” Father Jim Holland
If Holland does end up having to leave, the petitioners are asking for more time so that new relationships can be built within the Aboriginal community.
“Father Jim is right for us, so, the people that are coming in we’re not saying no to them, but what we’re saying is that we need a two to three year transition period for them to work under Father Jim and develop the relationship with the community,” said Ashley.
Holland said he is proud that the church members are using their voices because the church belongs to them.
“I feel great about it because they are speaking out,” said Holland. “I am more than willing to stay if everything works out.”
The online petition currently has 2,217 signatures and growing.