In his first public statements during a trip to Canada, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for survivors of abuse in Catholic residential schools for Indigenous children.
“I am deeply sorry,” the pope said, on the grounds of a former boarding school in Maskwacis, near Edmonton.
He said his apology was a first step and that a “serious investigation” into the abuse needed to take place so that the trauma could be overcome.
The pontiff is in Canada to apologize for the Church’s role in schools designed to convert Indigenous children.
The schools, funded by the Canadian government, were part of a policy to destroy Indigenous cultures.
The papal apology was met with applause from survivors in the audience, some of whom had traveled far and wide to hear the pope speak.
Francis expressed “his sadness, outrage and shame” at the actions of members of the Roman Catholic Church, which ran most residential schools in Canada.
The 85-year-old pope called the school system a “disastrous error” and asked forgiveness “for the wrong committed by so many Christians” against indigenous people.
Also present at the event were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon, the first Indigenous woman to hold the position – whose role is to represent Queen Elizabeth II in the country, as the monarch is the head of the country. state of Canada, a constitutional monarchy.
Ahead of his remarks, the pope met privately with local church leaders and led a silent prayer at Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery, where there are marked — and likely unmarked — graves of boarding school students. .
The former Ermineskin Boarding School site, one of the largest in Canada, is the first stop on the pope’s journey – what the pontiff called “a pilgrimage of penance.”
Many have called on the pope to apologize for the role played by the Catholic Church in running up to 70% of boarding schools in Canada.
Schools operated from the 1870s, with the last closing in 1996. During this time, approximately 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were removed from their homes and interned in these facilities.
The pope’s statements on Monday (7/25) come after a historic apology made in April to an indigenous delegation at the Vatican, on the occasion Francis said boarding schools were cause for “pain and shame.”
The apology was welcomed by indigenous leaders, but some called on the pope to act.
Also in Edmonton, the Pope will visit the Church of the Sacred Heart of the First Peoples, the first national parish of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.
He is expected to make further public comments on the subject throughout his journey.
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