The Edmonton Salvation Army provides helping hands during the Pope’s Visit

by markm

Pope Francis’ six-day visit to Canada was a historic event on the path towards healing and reconciliation, and The Salvation Army in Edmonton was blessed to be a part of it.

The Salvation Army’s work consisted of providing water and snacks to attendees, and meals to volunteers at the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage site. In all, over 100,000 bottles of water and 9000 snack bags were distributed at the events by over 60 Salvation Army staff and volunteers.

The Salvation Army in Edmonton, led by Major Ben Lippers, the Divisional Director of Emergency Disaster Services (EDS), were honored to help make the Papal visit to Edmonton a great success. All the preparation work, from ordering and receiving the water and snacks, assembling the 9000 bags, loading, and delivering them to where they needed to go, was done in less than 2 weeks prior to the Papal visit. It was a great accomplishment, and one we were proud to undertake.

The first event took place under a cloudy sky at the former residential school site in Maskwacis on the morning of 25th July.

“Maskwacis was a solemn, sacred experience whereby many tears were shed listening to Pope Frances offer an apology,” said Major Margaret McLeod, The Salvation Army Alberta & Northern Territories Divisional Commander. “The Salvation Army was blessed to be able to share the love of Jesus through the distribution of healthy snacks, water, ponchos for the rain, and tissues.”

Pushing red carts filled with water and snacks, our staff and volunteers were busy distributing over 6000 snack bags to participants. It was a cloudy day and, when it rained, ponchos were provided to the attendees.

That afternoon, the pontiff had a meeting with Indigenous peoples and members of the parish community of Sacred Heart in the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton. We served water and snacks outside the church.

The next day, a bright, cloudless, and very hot day, an ultra-large-scale Mass was held in the morning, with indigenous traditions were incorporated into the celebration. This event was open to the public and an estimated 60,000 people streamed into the Commonwealth Stadium.

The snacks and water were crucial due to the high temperature that day, and many people would arrive early in the day for a good seat or view of the Pope and be out in the sweltering heat for hours.

“As the Divisional Commander, I am proud of the teams who came together on short notice to live out, in action, the mission of The Salvation Army,” said Major McLeod. “As a volunteer handing out water, blessed to enter sacred spaces on a journey towards Truth & Reconciliation.”

We set up 4 water stations on the Stadium field during Mass to give out water, as well as at the gates. Even with all of that, the event organizer called during the service and asked us to bring water to people in the stands because people were fainting from the heat.

The last major event for the Papal visit to Edmonton was the pilgrimage to the site at Lac Ste. Anne, a long-established annual gathering place for Aboriginal peoples – and the first time since the pandemic that this event was celebrated. We provided 4 water and snack stations set up early that morning and the canteen in the staging area, where they had been providing food to volunteers for the past 10 days. Inside the Shrine, more snack bags and water were laid out for each attendee, which was reserved for survivors and their caregivers. Over 300 mental health support workers were on-site to help anyone needing someone to talk to, and they also helped distribute the water and snacks to the crowd and to the many workers providing security, who couldn’t leave their responsibilities.

Many people expressed their gratitude, “thank you very much for the water, thank you very much for being here.” We were also able to provide cold water to volunteers at the St. John’s ambulance stations, and one mentioned, “thank you so much, it is hot, and our ice packs are limited, the cold water is very much appreciated, thank you.”

At around 5 p.m. the Pope arrived and proceeded to the water’s edge in his wheelchair, giving blessings and prayers – an amazing experience, very close to the crowds who had been waiting for hours to see him.

It was a long and hot day at Lac Ste. Anne, and all the stations were very busy. Freezies were in large demand – and not just by the kids, but the elders too. We gave out thousands of bottles of water, granola bars, apples, and bars, and hoping to make a difference with our presence.

Major Ben Lippers, who oversaw this mission during the Papal visit, thought that this visit was not only historical, but it was also monumental. “Seeing The Salvation Army in Alberta mobilize to meet this need, makes my heart swell! This task cannot be accomplished by a single individual; it takes an Army.”

Almost at every event, we would hear both volunteers and staff express how special it was to be a part of this historical visit. Truly, it was. We were deeply moved by the experience. Last but not the least, we would like to pray for any achievement from the ripple effect of this historic visit in the journey towards Truth and Reconciliation.