By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
MASKWACIS, CANADA (Worthy News) – Pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for the role of church members in Canada’s “catastrophic” residential school system, in which Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities.
Speaking to survivors in Maskwacis, in Canada’s western province of Alberta, he recalled Indigenous children who were forbidden from speaking their native languages or practicing traditional customs.
Many were also facing physical and sexual abuse. “I am deeply sorry — sorry for how, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples,” Francis said in his native Spanish.
He addressed his comments to several thousand residential school survivors and others in a grass field encircled by a small grandstand. “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,” Francis added.
He made the remarks on the first full day of a trip aimed at penitence for one of Canada’s greatest tragedies.
The apology echoed a statement he delivered at the Vatican in April — remarks that some school survivors said didn’t go far enough.
However, the pope reiterated his deep sense of “pain and remorse” when speaking to the 2,000 residential school survivors, Chiefs, leaders, elders, knowledge keepers, and youth. All came from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities to the Maskwacis Park (“Bear hills,” in the Cree language) on Monday.
Francis said he came to their native lands “to implore God’s forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation,” to express his closeness, and to pray with and for them.
He briefly donned a feathered headdress given to him after his remarks, drawing loud cheers.
There were mixed reactions when Francis finished his remarks. “It was genuine, and it was good,” said Cam Bird, 42, a residential school survivor from Little Red River reserve in Saskatchewan. “He believes us.”
But others were still taking stock of what had just happened after many generations of devastation and trauma.
“I haven’t really digested it yet,” explained Barb Morin, 64, from Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan. Morin, whose parents suffered in residential schools, wore a shirt reading: “Residential School Survivors Never Forgotten.” “I’m having a really hard time internalizing this right now.”
For more than a century, beginning in 1831, Indigenous children in Canada were separated from their families and forced by the government to attend residential institutions run by Christian churches.
Until the last one shut in 1998, roughly three-quarters of those schools fell under the Catholic Church’s administration.
More than 4,000 children died while at residential schools over several decades, researchers say.
In June 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community discovered the remains of 215 children who attended the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
That discovery was sending shockwaves across the country.
The pope’s weeklong visit to Canada, starting in tiny Maskwacis, 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of the City of Edmonton, was seen as another step toward overcoming one of his church’s darkest chapters.
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