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Pope Francis apologizes for harm done to indigenous Canadians at residential schools

Jonah McKeown By Jonah McKeown for CNA

Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with indigenous peoples in Maskwacis, Canada, July 25, 2022. / Vatican Media

Denver Newsroom, Jul 25, 2022 / 12:17 pm (CNA).

In a speech in rural Canada before a crowd of indigenous Canadian people, Pope Francis publicly apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in running much of Canada’s government-sponsored residential school system.

During more than a century of operation, the system worked to stamp out aspects of native culture, language, and religious practice.

“I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry,” Pope Francis said in his July 25 speech.

“Sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry. I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.”

The speech marked Pope Francis’ first public address since arriving in Canada on July 24 for a weeklong visit. The venue in Maskwacis, a rural town about an hour’s drive south of Edmonton, is a circular arena typically used for pow wows.

Before mounting the stage, the pope prayed silently at the site of the former Ermineskin Residential School, which included the graves of several former students.

Attending the pope’s address, along with several hundred indigenous people in traditional garb, was the Governor General of Canada, Mary Simon, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The 85-year-old pope has been suffering from health problems of late, and has used a wheelchair frequently for months due to a knee injury. For this speech, Pope Francis was pushed to the stage in his wheelchair, and stood with the help of a cane.

Francis described his apology as a “starting point” on the path to healing, which includes “a serious investigation into the facts of what took place in the past and to assist the survivors of the residential schools to experience healing from the traumas they suffered.”

Canada’s residential schools, though they were government-funded, were administered and run by local churches, the majority of which were Catholic. Sisters of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate played a large role in running the schools. The schools broadly worked to strip away indigenous students’ native identities, practices, and languages, often against the will of the children’s tribes. Former students at the schools have described mistreatment and even abuse within their walls, along with broad criticisms of the quality of education they received, psychological damage, and other problems such as malnutrition and unsanitary conditions.

“Although Christian charity was not absent, and there were many outstanding instances of devotion and care for children, the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic,” the pope continued.

“What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is painful to think of how the firm soil of values, language and culture that made up the authentic identity of your peoples was eroded, and that you have continued to pay the price of this. In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children…I myself wish to reaffirm this, with shame and unambiguously. I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples.”

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was released in 2015, and requested an apology from the pope for the abuses it uncovered within one year of its release. In March 2022, Pope Francis met with representatives of the Métis and Inuit indigenous peoples, and with the Canadian Catholic bishops, both at the Vatican, and apologized to them privately.

Chief Wilton Littlechild, a prominent Canadian indigenous leader and advocate who was at the Vatican meeting, opened the ceremony in Maskwacis by welcoming Pope Francis to his homeland.

“Your Holiness, you have come to our land in response to our invitation, and as you

promised. You have said that you come as a pilgrim, seeking to walk together with us on the pathway of truth, justice, healing, reconciliation, and hope. We gladly welcome you to join us on this journey,” Littlechild said.

“As you acknowledged in your address to us in Rome, we Indigenous Peoples strive always to consider the impact of present events and deliberations on future generations. In that spirit, we sincerely hope that our encounter this morning, and the words you share with us, will echo with true healing and real hope throughout many generations to come.”

The presentation at Maskwacis included a procession with a large red banner, bearing the names of over 4,000 children who died at the residential schools. The creation of the banner was the first national, public commemoration to record the names of so many of the children who died at all the residential schools across Canada, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The pope praised the indigenous community’s sense of community and tradition, passing on a “treasury of sound customs and teachings,” following “ways of life that respect the earth which you received as a legacy from past generations and are keeping for those yet to come.”

“I trust and pray that Christians and civil society in this land may grow in the ability to accept and respect the identity and the experience of the indigenous peoples. It is my hope that concrete ways can be found to make those peoples better known and esteemed, so that all may learn to walk together. For my part, I will continue to encourage the efforts of all Catholics to support the indigenous peoples,” Pope Francis continued.

“In the face of evil, we pray to the Lord of goodness; in the face of death, we pray to the God of life. Our Lord Jesus Christ took a grave, which seemed the burial place of every hope and dream, leaving behind only sorrow, pain and resignation, and made it a place of rebirth and resurrection, the beginning of a history of new life and universal reconciliation. Our own efforts are not enough to achieve healing and reconciliation: we need God’s grace. We need the quiet and powerful wisdom of the Spirit, the tender love of the Comforter. May he bring to fulfillment the deepest expectations of our hearts. May he guide our steps and enable us to advance together on our journey.”

Following a flight from Rome, the pope was greeted at Edmonton International Airport by Trudeau and other dignitaries July 24. On July 26, the feast of St. Anne, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. Later that day, he will participate in a pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne, a site which plays host annually to thousands of pilgrims, billing itself as the largest annual Catholic gathering in western Canada. The pope will also celebrate a Liturgy of the Word at the site.

EWTN will continue to provide live coverage of the papal trip, which can be found through the network’s program schedule.

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  1. Every migrant to the Americas has a story and the nomadic Indians are no exception.
    My ancestors were evicted, early 1800s, from Scotland at the point of a bayonet and put on rickety ships to cross the Atlantic. They were put off in September on the rugged, lonely coast of Nova Scotia in September with few supplies. Half of them died that winter. The following years weren’t much better. They lost their language, their customs, kilts, friends and families scattered and were treated like scum by the locals
    Indians have no franchise on suffering.

  2. Pontiff Francis, don’t apologize for me. Individuals commit sin, not groups. If you, Francis, as an individual have something to apologize, by all means apologize. But leave me out of your virtue/sin signaling.

  3. I will be following Fr. Raymond de Souza on the papal visit/remarks. And I’ll be looking later for Douglas Farrow’s analysis.
    I am leery of the MSM’s reporting and almost as leery (maybe more so) of Pope Francis’ remarks.

  4. I agree, as Mr. Macdonald says: “Indians have no franchise on suffering.”

    Catholicism also represents a type of franchise — the fullness of revelation and salvation is her trademark, legacy, gift to the world, and our inheritance. But some ‘Catholic’ leaders refuse to acknowledge or to teach its truths.

    Meander to today’s LifeSiteNews to see the pope taking on the appearance of a polar bear, a Popeye, a Pillsbury doughboy, glowering at the camera with all the charity he apparently knows not how to muster. Before the Pope’s participation in the latest liturgy to Mother Earth, Michael Matt at the Remnant prophetically labeled the Canadian Catholic apology tour a ‘roadshow.’

    Spare Us, O Lord, spare us.

  5. The words of the Holy Father seems prophetic for the future as well , to ring across lands and cultures ..such as telling certain powers , not to import ideological colonisation into The Church by trying to endorse the monkey pox ways .. instead to respect and abide by the Holy Spirit inspired roots and culture of The Church as a whole ..
    not to condone forced separation of families ..through wars …, drug violence , poverty and its forced migrations .. the violent separation of the unborn.. marital separation from God and each other by inviting agents of lust ..

    Holy Father speaking with the memory of own family that was forced to leave Italy due to the Fascist infiltration of the land ..

    May the eyes and ears of many who are watching world over hear the strength as well as the tenderness in those words , to trust in the efforts of The Church that desires the good of affirming the innate dignity of lives , for the help that can be in vast enough measures in letting The Spirit take hold of the reins in the Heart of The Mother …

    • Since when has Francis ever been opposed to lust? And when has he noticed that lust and the sex revolution does actual damage to God’s plans for family life?

  6. – good site to refer to the words of the Holy Father – the above one on lust mentions –
    ‘women are what men lack on their own , to be the image and likeness of God ‘ and
    ‘ there is anger and resentment against women , a nasty anger .’
    His efforts to help the children to turn to The Mother , to all healthy holy relationships as the means to root out the ailments including lust , that afflict those in the field hospital – blessed to be a ‘beloved physician ‘ like St.Luke, another beloved of The Mother … 🙂

    Blessings !

  7. And the apology from the Canadian government who made education for the Indigenous people compulsory, established the residential schools and grossly underfunded them?

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