Pope Francis apologizes for the role of the Catholic Church in the Canadian residential school system
By Brooklyn Neustaeter
ROME/TORONTE (TVC network) — Pope Francis apologized to a group of Indigenous delegates for the role of the Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system and asked for forgiveness.
After private meetings between Pope Francis and First Nations, Inuit and Mestizo delegates this week, all parties met with the pope at the Vatican on Friday.
Speaking in Italian, the pontiff asked God for forgiveness for the “deplorable conduct” of members of the Catholic Church, acknowledging the harm done to natives in boarding schools.
“I want to tell you with all my heart: I’m really sorry,” Francis said during the last meeting with the delegates.
“And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops in asking for your forgiveness.”
The pope added that he was “outraged” and “ashamed” of the abuses suffered at church-run residential schools in Canada.
About 190 people, including delegates, families and supporters, gathered to share spiritual practices, including prayers and traditional songs, and to hear the pope’s words during the final address.
Pope Francis has also promised to visit Canada. An official date has not been set for the trip, but the pope said he hoped to visit Canada “in the days” around the feast day of Saint Anne, which falls on July 26 and is dedicated to the great- mother of Christ.
Many residential school survivors have said an apology would be more meaningful if Pope Francis traveled to Canada for it.
During Thursday’s meeting, the First Nations delegation presented the Pope with cultural gifts, including moccasins, an eagle feather and a cradle, meant to be a sign of peace and an example of the persistence of culture. First Nations despite attempts at assimilation.
The delegation said it has tasked the pope with looking after the cradle overnight, hoping he will return it when he meets with the three indigenous groups on Friday, as a sign of his commitment to reconciliation. It is not known if the plate has been returned or if the Pope will return it when he comes to Canada.
In meetings earlier this week, indigenous delegate groups shared stories of loss and abuse, and told the Pope they wanted him to understand how they were shaped by the Church’s heritage. Catholicism and the residential school system in Canada, as well as the impact of this system on subsequent generations.
During Friday’s meeting, delegates presented Pope Francis with gifts, including snowshoes and a hardcover book of Métis stories.
Beginning in the late 1800s, approximately 150,000 Aboriginal children were separated from their families and forced to attend boarding schools, institutions that sought to replace their languages and culture with English and Christian beliefs. The schools were established by the Canadian government and most were run by the Catholic Church.
Numerous cases of abuse and at least 4,100 deaths have been documented in the former residential schools, where thousands of confirmed, unmarked graves have been found. The last Canadian boarding school closed in 1996.
Since the late 1980s, several religious groups have issued apologies, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 and the RCMP in 2004 and 2014, each acknowledging their role in the operation of residential schools.
In 2017, during a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the head of the Catholic Church to apologize for his involvement in the Canadian residential school system. But the following year, the church issued a letter saying the pope would not apologize.
Speaking to reporters in St. Peter’s Square after the pope’s address on Friday, Assembly of First Nations delegation leader Gerald Antoine said the meeting gave those involved an opportunity to ” humanize with each other”.
He added that it was an important moment for the indigenous delegates to feel “seen” by the Catholic Church as human beings – something they had not had during their time in residential schools.
“Our message to the world is that we are all in this together. We are human beings. Let’s work together to humanize the way we need with Mother Earth,” said Antoine.
With files from The Canadian Press, as well as CTVNews.ca writers Daniel Otis and Jennifer Ferreira
If you are a former residential school student in distress or have been impacted by the Indian residential school system and need assistance, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1- 866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential Schools Service Survivors Society Toll-Free Line at 1-800-721-0066.
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