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.
‘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.
Remnants of a smudging ceremony lead to the fire, destroying much of the interior.
“We’ve been in the gymnasium across the street at Sacred Heart Learning Centre,” Parishioner Ron Martineau said.
“It’s a nice gymnasium — but its not a church.”
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.
Pastor Jesu said he hopes the additions will help Indigenous people feel more welcome, while also showing the churches uniqueness to Pope Francis.
“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.