Pope visits Canada to apologize for Roman Catholic involvement in residential school system

MASKWACIS — Tears streamed down the faces of Indigenous elders and residential school survivors as Pope Francis stood before them and asked forgiveness for the “deplorable evil” committed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis, in his first public appearance in Canada in Maskwacis, Alberta, said he was sorry the church had participated in the cultural destruction and forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples.

“Faced with this deplorable evil, the church kneels before God and asks his forgiveness for the sins of his children? I humbly ask forgiveness for the wrong done by so many Christians against Indigenous peoples,” Francis said Monday through an interpreter at the community powwow grounds.

It was an apology that Evelyn Korkmaz, a survivor of St. Anne’s Indian residential school in Ontario, had waited 50 years to hear, but she wanted more.

“Part of me is happy. Part of me sad. Part of me is numb,” she said.

“I’m glad I lived long enough to witness that apology.”

Francis also received applause and cheers from the crowd of thousands as he said he felt sadness, outrage and shame. Others sat in contemplation with their eyes closed as the pontiff said the church’s actions were a “disastrous error incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ”.

Francis asked for forgiveness, in particular, for “the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, especially through their indifference, with the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time. , which resulted in the residential school system.”

Across Turtle Island, the reaction to the apology was met with a varied range of emotions.

Six Nations leader-elect Mark Hill said: “I am happy to see Pope Francis visit Canada, and I hope his apology is just the beginning of the Catholic Church’s efforts to atone for its role in the residential school system. Everyone’s healing journey is different, and I fully support Survivors who have been waiting for this apology to move forward on their own journey. Survivors deserve justice for the atrocities they endured at the hands of these organizations, and that begins with the cooperation of the Government of Canada and participating churches in investigations and the release of all records they have of these institutions. Following the Archbishop of Canterbury’s apology in May, I look forward to the cooperation of the Anglican Church of Canada throughout the investigation at the former Mohawk Institute.

Murray Sinclair, former Senator and Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) said, “Despite this historic apology, the Holy Father’s statement left a deep hole in the recognition of the full role of the Church in the residential school system. , blaming individual members of the Church. It is important to point out that the Church was not only an agent of the state, nor simply a participant in government policy, but was one of the main co-authors of the darkest chapters of the history of this country.

The pope’s apology also omitted something Indigenous leaders were asking for – the revocation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

The Assembly of First Nations has been one of the most vocal organizations calling for the renunciation of 15th century politics.

It was a Vatican decree that countries, including Canada, used to justify the colonization of Indigenous lands.

The AFN says the doctrine ignores Indigenous sovereignty and continues to have legal repercussions today.

The apology included no mention of sexual abuse or genocide, no discussion of reparations,

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in its call for a papal apology, said it should address the Catholic Church’s role in the “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse” of Indigenous children in residential schools.

Pope Francis said the children suffered “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse”, but did not mention sexual abuse.

Also missing from the apology was a promise to release documents and artifacts

One of the outstanding calls facing the Vatican and Catholic entities in Canada is to release more documents related to the operation of residential schools and to return Indigenous artifacts.

Last year, the news that ground-penetrating radar had located what are believed to be hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in Western Canada underscored the need for governments and Church authorities to turn over records that could help identify those who died, advocates and indigenous leaders say.

Still, for many who attended the apology, there was hope for recovery.

Eileen Clearsky of Waywayseecappo First Nation in Manitoba held photos of her mother and father during the pope’s speech. She said she wanted to honor her parents, who were both survivors, and find healing for her family.

“It’s been a long journey to find out who we are because of the legacy that residential school left us,” Clearsky said.

Chief Wilton Littlechild gave Francis a headdress. The former member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission attended residential schools for 14 years as a child in Alberta.

He said he hoped the pope’s visit would foster a path of justice, healing, reconciliation and hope.

Jon Crier, a residential school survivor, wondered if the pope’s apology was enough. He said the church must now act and make a plan to mend its relationship with indigenous peoples.

Treaty 6 Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. said the pope’s apology seemed sincere, but action was needed on his words.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the apology should be “the beginning, not the end.” He said more work needed to be done, including obtaining documents from the Catholic Church.

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