‘We asked for prayers for our people’: Alberta First Nation chief meets with Pope

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WATCH ABOVE: Leaders from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation travelled to Vatican City this week to meet with the Pope, hoping to bring healing to their communities. Sarah Kraus reports – Apr 30, 2016

EDMONTON – Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis met with Pope Francis in Vatican City on Wednesday during a trip that came at the request of the nation’s community.

“We asked for prayers for our people (and) the Pope, a prayer leader for many around the world, accepted our requests,” Alexis said in a news release. “Elders in our culture say during prayers and ceremony, if someone is blessed and looked upon by (the) Creator, everyone else will receive the blessing too.”

It was a day Father Les Kwiatkowski from the Lac St. Anne Parish will never forget.

“Until almost the last minute I didn’t believe that we could do it and would do it so it was a beautiful surprise and a beautiful experience.”

The community sent a letter of intent, explaining why the chief wanted to meet with Pope Francis.

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“Native communities today struggle with many problems around drugs and all kinds of addictions,” Kwiatkowski said. “Most of those prayers were requests for help, for healing, for prayer because healing comes through prayer. We wanted this blessing of the Holy Father.”

“The prayers were not only for my community,” Alexis told Global News. “They were prayers for across the country.

“There are a lot of stories of the young kids who attempt suicide or some who have committed suicide, there are stories of youth struggling. We have those struggles across the land,” the chief explained.

“Part of our culture is that we ask for prayers. Part of the prayer is to instil hope and inspire that within ourselves.”

During their brief talk, Alexis presented the Pope with a painted hand drum meant to represent “Mother Earth’s heartbeat” and asked the pontiff to work together with his people to look after the Earth.

Artist Eugene Alexis said it felt good and was an honour to have his art given to the Pope.

“I just want the Creator to forgive me for my sins. I was pretty messed up a while back, but I found my way back, and now try to do God’s work.”

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The chief also hand-delivered more prayer requests from community members, friends and relatives from across Canada.

Kwiatkowski held more than 200 prayer requests.

“I told him that we need prayer as we need his blessings and he said, ‘please pray for me,'” he recalled. “It was very touching. He was a very humble man. You don’t feel like you’re standing in front of the leader of the church, just a guy. He’s just a normal man.”

Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis presents Pope Francis with a painted hand drum in Vatican City on April 27, 2016. COURTESY: Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation

“I was honoured that at the end of our visit, Pope Francis humbly asked that we also pray for him,” Alexis echoed.

Alexis also asked Pope Francis to pray for youth, and invited the Catholic leader to come to the Lac St. Anne Pilgrimage held in July every year.

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READ MORE: Pope Francis apologizes for church’s ‘grave sins’ against indigenous of America

Alexis was joined on his trip by former Chief Rod Alexis, Father Les Kwiatkowski from the Lac St. Anne Parish, as well as other members of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and Paul First Nation.

Chief Alexis’ trip to Vatican City followed a brief visit to Jerusalem, where the Nakota language was being honoured.

The Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation is located a little over an hour northwest of Edmonton.

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