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Edmonton church prepares for Pope visit, grand reopening after 2020 fire

Click to play video: 'Edmonton church prepares for Pope visit and grand reopening after 2020 fire' Edmonton church prepares for Pope visit and grand reopening after 2020 fire
Leaders and parishioners of Edmonton's Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples are getting ready for a grand reopening to welcome Pope Francis when he arrives next month. But as Chris Chacon reports there's more to it than just opening the doors of a renovated building – Jun 24, 2022

It’s was invitation to visit Edmonton’s Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples Father Susai Jesu only hoped would have been accepted when he met Pope Francis back in April.

Now that the pontiff is coming, Jesu and parishioners are thrilled.

‘My prayer and our prayers answered,” Jesu said.

But the building is far from being in a welcome state for the head of the Catholic Church.

Ever since the building caught fire back in 2020, extensive renovations have been underway at the more than 100-year-old building.

Read more: Central Edmonton church fire damages pegged at $350,000

‘If you were here and saw the parishioners at that time people, were standing here with tears running down their face,” Congregation member Ron Martineau said.

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Remnants of a smudging ceremony lead to the fire, destroying much of the interior.

Click to play video: 'Central Edmonton church fire damages pegged at $350,000' Central Edmonton church fire damages pegged at $350,000
Central Edmonton church fire damages pegged at $350,000 – Sep 1, 2020

“We’ve been in the gymnasium across the street at Sacred Heart Learning Centre,” Parishioner Ron Martineau said.

The focus after the fire was not just to restore what was lost, but renew the space with special meaning for Indigenous people.

To do that, the church is restoring Indigenous spiritual symbols and adding a teepee at the altar area. One will also be carved into the front door.

“To be able to incorporate those symbols in a worship space is very special for the Indigenous community, it brings the Church close to the community,” Parishioner Bill Perdue said.

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Pastor Jesu said he hopes the additions will help Indigenous people feel more welcome, while also showing the churches uniqueness to Pope Francis.

Read more: Pope Francis to visit former Alberta residential school during Canada trip: Vatican

“This is a renewal within Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples,” Jesu said.

A spiritual renewal parishioners have been longing for.

‘To have the Pope present in our facility, a rebirth, a reborn facility… word cannot describe it. It’s incredible,” Perdue said.

‘For us to be back in this church means the world not only to me, but to fellow parishioners,” Martineau said.

Jesu said work is also being done to ensure the church is fully accessible, including accessible washrooms and a lift and that will be done for when the Pope arrives.

Construction was supposed to be completed in October, but the Pope’s visit has accelerated that timeline with the church’s grand reopening now scheduled for July 17 —  just a week before the pope’s visit.

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