Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous delegates for residential schools

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By Kelly Geraldine Malone

THE CANADIAN PRESS

ROME — Tears have rolled down the cheeks of survivors of residential schools in the Vatican after Pope Francis issued a long-awaited apology for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the harm these institutions have caused to generations of Indigenous people.

The pontiff stood before a room of nearly 200 indigenous delegates in the Sala Clementina, one of the halls of the Apostolic Palace, on Friday and asked God’s forgiveness for the deplorable conduct of church members.

“I want to tell you with all my heart: I’m so sorry,” Francis said in Italian during a final meeting with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates.

“And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your forgiveness.”

Francis said he felt shame and grief that Catholics, especially those in charge of education, had caused such significant harm. He also said he would come to Canada.

Chief Gerald Antoine, head of the Assembly of First Nations delegation, said receiving an apology was like walking in the snow and seeing new moose tracks.

“That’s the feeling I have because there is a possibility,” said Antoine, standing just beyond St. Peter’s Square.

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said in the moment he couldn’t help but think about how people can change the world. He thought about how there can be a path to justice.

“Behind the cover-ups, behind the indifference of more than 100 years, behind the lies, behind the lack of justice, this Pope, Pope Francis, has decided to go all the way and decided to say words that First Nations, Inuit and Métis have been waiting to hear for decades,” Obed said.

Elder Fred Kelly prayed for the children who went to residential schools and for healing in the future. Marty Angotealuk and Lizzie Angotealuk sang “Our Father” in Inuktitut and Métis Emile Janvier prayed in Dene.

Some members had expressed apprehension and anxiety before the last meeting with the pope, as they were not sure they would hear the apology for which they had worked so hard.

“I know how important these words will be for our survivors at home,” said Cassidy Caron, President of the Métis National Council.

An estimated 150,000 Aboriginal children were forced to attend residential schools, and more than 60% of schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Each of the indigenous groups involved in the delegation had told the pope in meetings earlier this week that they hoped he would apologize to Canada. No date has been set for the trip, but delegates said it could take place as early as this summer.

They also asked the church to provide reparations to support healing, return Indigenous artifacts, and share any residential school documents.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he looked forward to Pope Francis coming to Canada to deliver the apology in person and hailed the bravery and determination of survivors who stood up for her.

“Today’s apology is a step forward in acknowledging the truth of our past in order to right historic wrongs, but there is still work to be done,” he said in Ottawa.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has released a detailed report that details abuse in schools, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse. It included a call to action for the pope to apologize on Canadian soil.

Survivors, their families and communities have now heard the apology they have been waiting for generations, said Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.

“Today marks the beginning of meaningful action by the Church to take responsibility for its egregious actions, the effects of which are still felt in communities and generations today,” Scott said in a statement. .

At the Vatican, there was an exchange of gifts to mark the day.

Pope Francis received a cross made of baleen, a filtration system in the mouth of a bowhead whale, placed in a sealskin bag. He also received a beaded leather stole, which is a liturgical vest, traditional handmade snowshoes, and a residential school survivor memoir book.

In return, the pope presented each indigenous group with a bronze olive branch as a sign of peace and reconciliation, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 1, 2022.

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