Pope on Canadian residential schools: ‘I am very sorry’

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Pope Francis has apologized to a group of indigenous representatives for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system and asked for forgiveness.

After private meetings between Pope Francis and representatives of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis this week, all sides met the Pope at the Vatican on Friday.

Speaking in Italian, the pope asked for God’s forgiveness for the “deplorable behavior” of members of the Catholic Church, acknowledging the injustice done to indigenous people in residential schools.

“I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry,” Francis said during the last meeting with the delegates.

“And I join my brethren, the Canadian bishops, in asking your forgiveness.”

The pope added that he was “outraged” and “ashamed” at the abuses in Canada’s church-run residential schools, saying Catholic educators in these facilities did not respect Indigenous identity, culture and spiritual values.

“It is horrifying to think of determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to cut their roots, and to consider all the personal and social consequences this still entails: unresolved traumas those between-generational traumas,” the Pope said in Italian.

In addition to the apology, Pope Francis promised to travel to Canada. An official date for the trip has not been set, but the pope said he hoped to visit Canada “in the days” surrounding the feast of Saint Anne, which falls on July 26 and is dedicated to Christ’s grandmother.

A papal apology for the Church’s role in facilitating Canada’s residential schools was one of 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the track record of the country’s residential schools from 2008 to 2015. Many residential school survivors have said an apology would make more sense if Pope Francis traveled to Canada for it.

About 190 people, including delegates, survivors and supporters, gathered on Friday to share spiritual practices, such as prayers and traditional songs, and to hear the Pope’s words during the closing address. Deputies also presented the Pope with gifts, including snowshoes and a bound book of Metis stories.

During Thursday’s meeting, the First Nation delegation also gave the Pope gifts, including moccasins, an eagle feather and a cradle board, intended as a sign of peace and an example of lingering First Nations culture despite attempts at assimilation.

The delegation said they had instructed the Pope to look after the crib board overnight, with the hope that he will return it when he meets all three indigenous groups on Friday, as a sign of his commitment to reconciliation. It’s unclear if the sign has been returned or if the Pope will return it when he comes to Canada.

In meetings earlier this week, the groups of Indigenous delegates shared stories of loss and abuse, telling the Pope they wanted him to understand how they have been shaped by the legacy of the Catholic Church and Canada’s residential school system, as well as the impact of that. system for future generations.

The delegates also asked for a commitment from the Catholic Church to repair the damage its members have caused to residential schools, such as repealing the doctrine of discovery, returning indigenous lands and providing compensation to survivors.

Beginning in the late 1800s, about 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and forced to attend residential schools, facilities aimed at replacing their languages ​​and culture with English and Christian faith. The schools were set up by the Canadian government and most were run by the Catholic Church.

Numerous abuses and at least 4,100 deaths have been documented in the former residential schools, where thousands of confirmed and unmarked graves have been found. Canada’s last residential school closed in 1996.

Since the late 1980s, several apologies have been made by various church groups, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 and the RCMP in 2004 and 2014, each recognizing their role in the operation of residential schools.

In 2017, during a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked 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 that the Pope would not apologize.

Speaking to reporters in St. Peter’s Square after Friday’s speech by the Pope, Commissioner of the First Nations Assembly, Gerald Antoine, said the apology “should have come a long time” and a “historic first step” towards reconciliation, but “only a first step”.

“Today is a day we have been waiting for, and certainly one that will be exalted in our history,” Antoine said.

“The next step is for the Holy Father to apologize to our family at their home… they also seek the words of apology at home.”

Antoine said Friday’s apology was a key moment for Indigenous deputies to feel “seen” by the Catholic Church — something they didn’t get 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 to with Mother Earth,” Antoine said.

Featuring files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, as well as CTVNews.ca writers Daniel Otis and Jennifer Ferreira

If you are a former residential school student in need, or affected by the residential school system and need assistance, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free phone number at 1-800-721-0066

Additional mental health support and resources for indigenous peoples are available here.

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