Pope says he hopes Canada visit will help heal ‘evil’ done to Indigenous people

Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sunday. (Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press)

Pope Francis said on Sunday his trip to Canada next week will be a “pilgrimage of penance” that he hopes can help heal the wrongs done to Indigenous people by Roman Catholic priests and nuns who ran abusive residential schools.

Pope Francis will tour three regions — Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit — from July 24 to 29. During the trip, he’s expected to expand on an apology he delivered at the Vatican this past spring for residential school abuse in institutions run by his church.

“Unfortunately in Canada many Christians, including some members of religious orders, contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation that in the past gravely damaged native populations in various ways,” Francis said at his weekly address to people in St. Peter’s Square.

About 150,000 children were taken from their homes. Many were subjected to physical and sexual abuse in what Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide.”

The stated aim of the schools, which operated between 1831 and 1996, was to assimilate Indigenous children. They were run by Christian denominations on behalf of the government, most by the Catholic Church.

The schools were at the centre of discussions between the Pope and Indigenous people at the Vatican in March and April. Recalling the meetings, Francis said on Sunday he had expressed “my pain and solidarity over the evil that they endured.”

“I am about to make a pilgrimage of penance, which, I hope that with the grace of God can contribute to the path of healing and reconciliation that already has been started,” he said.

He appealed for the faithful to “accompany me with prayers” during the trip.

Pope Francis hands a gift to Rosemary Lundrigan of the Inuit delegation at the Vatican on April 1. (Vatican Media via Reuters)

Seeking more than an apology

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission — which from 2008 to 2015 examined the record of Canada’s residential school system — called for a papal apology as part of its 94 calls to action.

Fresh demands for accountability came after what are believed to be more than 200 unmarked graves were discovered in British Columbia last year by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was run by the Roman Catholic Church.

Hundreds more potential unmarked burial sites have been found since in other locations around Canada.

Some survivors and advocates want more than an apology from the Pope. There have been calls for the Catholic Church to release all residential school documents and records to the Winnipeg-based National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Some also want Indian day school survivors to have their experiences acknowledged.

While separate from the residential school system, Indian or federal day schools were part of federal policy aimed at assimilating Indigenous children and often had religious affiliations. The Roman Catholic Church operated the majority of the nearly 700 schools.

Pope Francis arrives in a wheelchair to attend an audience with nuns and religious superiors in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on May 5. The Pope suffers from strained ligaments in his right knee and recently revealed he had undergone some injections to relieve the pain, though it wasn’t clear what the procedure entailed. (Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press)

Visit comes amid health issues

The Vatican on June 23 confirmed the Canadian visit will go ahead even though Francis is dealing with some health issues.

The 85-year-old Pope had to cancel a trip to Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in early July because of a knee problem that forced him to use first a wheelchair and later a cane.

In an interview with Reuters on July 2, he gave details of his ailment for the first time public, saying he had suffered “a small fracture” in the knee when he took a misstep while a ligament was inflamed.

The Pope has issued other apologies in recent years.

He travelled to Bolivia in 2015, where he asked for forgiveness for the church’s crimes against Indigenous people during Latin America’s colonial era. On a trip to Ireland in 2018, he offered a sweeping apology for the crimes of the Catholic Church there, saying church officials frequently failed to respond with compassion to the many abuses children and women suffered over the years.

With files from Thomson Reuters

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: This Indigenous priest will lead Pope Francis on his visit to Canada this month, The Canadian Press

Finland: Psychosocial support for Sami proposed ahead of Finland’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland, Denmark initiate investigation into past relations, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media.

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