Pope Goes to Canada to Apologize

Francis to address mistreatment of Native people in residential schools
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 24, 2022 5:00 PM CDT
Pope Goes to Canada to Apologize
Governor-General Mary Simon, right, receives a gift from an Indigenous community representative Sunday as Grand Chief George Arcand, center, looks on in Edmonton, Alberta.   (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Pope Francis began a historic visit to Canada on Sunday to apologize to Indigenous peoples for abuses by missionaries at residential schools, a key step in the Catholic Church's efforts to reconcile with Native communities and help them heal from generations of trauma. Francis flew from Rome to Edmonton, Alberta, where his welcoming party included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, an Inuk who is Canada's first Indigenous governor-general. Francis had no official events scheduled for the day, the AP reports, giving him time to rest before his meeting Monday with survivors near the site of a former residential school in Maskwacis, where he is expected to deliver an apology.

Indigenous drums and chanting broke the silence as the welcome ceremony began. A succession of Indigenous leaders and elders greeted the pope and exchanged gifts. During the flight, Francis told reporters this was a "penitential voyage," and he urged prayers in particular for elderly people and grandparents. Indigenous groups are seeking more than an apology, though, as they press for access to church archives to learn the fate of children who never returned home from the residential schools. They also want justice for the abusers, financial reparations, and the return of Indigenous artifacts held by the Vatican Museums. "Many of our people are skeptical and they are hurt,” said Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations. Yet he expressed hope that with an apology, "We could begin our journey of healing .. and change the way things have been for our people for many, many years."

Francis' weeklong trip—which will take him to Edmonton; Quebec City and finally Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north—follows meetings he held in the spring at the Vatican with delegations from the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit. The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse were rampant in the state-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s. Some 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes, Native languages and cultures and assimilate them into Canada’s Christian society.

(More residential schools stories.)

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