Pope Asks For Pardon For Church Offenses Against Indigenous Canadians

Pope Francis apologized Monday “for the wrong that so many Christians have done to indigenous peoples” in Canada, on the first day of a visit focused on addressing decades of abuses committed in Catholic institutions.

The religious leader’s conversion was greeted with applause as crowds of indigenous people from groups such as First Nations, Metis and Inuit gathered at Maskwacis, where indigenous children were taken from their families and subjected to what was deemed a “cultural genocide”.

“I apologize for the way many members of the Church and religious communities have cooperated, even through indifference, with this project of cultural destruction and forced assimilation,” said the 85-year-old Argentine pope, who sat down to read his message.

“The policy of assimilation and detachment, which also includes the boarding school system, is disastrous for the people of this country,” he admits.

The emotion of the audience was evident during a speech in Maskwacis, province of Alberta, about one hundred kilometers south of Edmonton, where the former Ermineskin boarding school is located, one of the largest in Canada, active from 1895 to 1975.

Hundreds of people, many dressed in traditional dress, joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, the country’s first indigenous governor-general, into action. Indigenous leaders present and dress the pope in traditional feather headdresses.

“The place where we found ourselves echoes the cries of pain, the cries of strangulation that accompanied me during these months”, said Francisco, mentioning the “physical, psychological and spiritual abuse” that children suffer.

Several counselors are present to provide emotional support. Shortly before that, volunteers handed out small paper bags to “collect tears”.

Love tears

“The First Nations believed that if you cry, you cry love, you put your tears in a piece of paper and put them back in this bag,” explained Andre Carrier, of the Manitoba Metis Federation, ahead of the pope’s address.

Volunteers will collect the bags and then burn them with a special prayer “to return tears of love to the Creator”, he said.

From the late 19th century through the 1990s, the Canadian government sent some 150,000 children to 139 Church-run boarding schools, segregating them from their families, language, and culture. Many students experience physical and sexual abuse by school principals and teachers.

This system of cultural assimilation is believed to have caused the death of at least 6,000 minors from disease, malnutrition, neglect or abuse.

An indigenous delegation traveled to the Vatican in April and met with the pope, who formally apologized for the past.

But asking for forgiveness on Canadian soil means a lot to the survivors and their families, to whom their ancestral lands are very important.

The Argentinian will also visit the Sacred Heart of the First Peoples of Edmonton church, where he will give a second address to indigenous peoples.

To the shock of Canada and in recognition of its dark past, more than 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at the former boarding school site since May 2021.

The Canadian government, which compensates alumni in millions of dollars, formally apologized 14 years ago for setting up these schools to “kill Indian children’s hearts”.

After the government, the Anglican Church also apologized. The Catholic Church, which is responsible for more than 60% of these schools, initially refused to do the same.

healing journey

Canada is slowly opening its eyes to a past described as “cultural genocide” by a national commission of inquiry.

The long-awaited papal visit, which will last six days, raised hope among the few survivors and their families. Many also hoped for a symbolic gesture, such as the return of original art objects that had been kept in the Vatican for decades.

On Tuesday, the pope will celebrate Mass at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium where an estimated 65,000 people are expected, before heading to Lake Sainte-Anne, site of an important annual pilgrimage. On Wednesday, the Pope will visit Quebec before his final trip, on Friday in Iqaluit (Nunavut), a city in northern Canada, on the Arctic archipelago.

Weakened by pain in his knee, the Argentine Jesuit appeared in a wheelchair upon arriving in Edmonton on Sunday. His schedule was accommodated to avoid major travel due to his health condition, according to the organisers. (AFP)

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