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Pope Expresses Regret over “Evil” of Canadian Indigenous Abuse

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On the first day of a visit aimed at addressing decades of abuse at Catholic-run residential schools, Pope Francis apologized for the “harm” done to Canada‘s Indigenous peoples.

A group of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people in Maskwacis, western Alberta province, who some of whom were taken from their families as youngsters in what has been dubbed a “cultural genocide,” applauded in response to the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics’ call for forgiveness.

“I am sorry,” said the 85-year-old pontiff, who remained seated as he delivered his address at the site of one of the largest of Canada’s infamous residential schools — where some 150,000 Indigenous children were sent as part of a policy of forced assimilation.

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” said the pope, citing “cultural destruction” and the “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” of children over the course of decades.

Francis recognized publicly that “many members of the Church” had participated in the oppressive system while expressing his “deep sense of sadness and remorse.”

In Maskwacis, an Indigenous village south of the provincial capital Edmonton, where the Ermineskin residential school operated until it was shut down in 1975, the emotion was obvious as he spoke.

Along with Mary Simon, the first Indigenous governor general of Canada, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, several hundred people, many of them dressed in traditional attire, were there.

A traditional feathered headdress was afterwards placed on the pope by Indigenous leaders after many people bowed their heads, wiped away their tears, or leaned on and hugged their neighbors.

To help those who might need it, counselors were standing behind teepees that had been set up, and earlier volunteers had given out tiny paper bags for the “gathering of tears.”

Cry love

Andre Carrier of the Manitoba Metis Federation stated, “The First Nation thinks that if you cry, you cry love, and you capture the tears on a piece of paper and put it back in this bag,” prior to the pope’s address.

To “return the tears of love to the creator,” according to him, volunteers will collect the bags before they are later burned.

About 150,000 children were placed by the Canadian government into 139 residential schools managed by the Church between the late 1800s and the 1990s, when they were separated from their families, languages and culture.

Thousands are thought to have perished from disease, hunger, or neglect, and many were subjected to physical and sexual abuse by headmasters and teachers.

Indigenous people hoisted a 50-meter long bright red banner with the names of all the children known to have perished on it during a ritual held before the pope spoke in Maskwacis. Sometimes, only the nicknames were printed on the banner. Authorities reported that there were 4,120 of them.

More than 1,300 unmarked graves have been found near the locations of the defunct schools since May 2021, shocking Canada, which has only recently started to acknowledge this lengthy, tragic chapter in its history.

Prior to Francis’ visit, a group of indigenous peoples visited the Vatican in April and spoke with the pope, who later issued an official apology.

But for survivors and their families, doing so once again on Canadian soil was extremely important.

In 4:30 pm (2230 GMT) same day, Francis will make a second address to Indigenous communities at Edmonton’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church of the First Peoples, one of the city’s oldest parishes.

healing process

Francis, who has been dealing with knee discomfort and had to use a wheelchair during the Canada trip, said that the journey to Edmonton was the longest for him since 2019.

Despite being eagerly anticipated, some people have strong opinions about the pope visit.

Deborah Greyeyes, 71, a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, the biggest Indigenous community in Canada, stated, “It means a lot to me” that he came.

She told AFP, “I think we have to forgive, too, at some time.” But “many things were taken away from us.”

Tuesday after celebrating mass in front of tens of thousands of worshippers in Edmonton, Francis will travel to the Lac Sainte Anne, a significant pilgrimage site.

After spending the week of July 27–29 in Quebec City, he will continue his journey in Iqaluit, the northern region of Nunavut, which has the country’s biggest Inuit population. There, he will have another meeting with former residential school students before flying back to Italy.



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