Pope Francis said on Sunday that his trip to Canada next week will be a “penitential pilgrimage” which he hopes can help right the wrongs done to Indigenous peoples by Catholic priests and nuns who ran residential schools. abusive.
Pope Francis will visit three regions – Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit – July 24-29. During his trip, he is expected to expand on the apology he made to the Vatican last spring for boarding school abuses at institutions run by his church.
“Unfortunately, in Canada, many Christians, including some members of religious orders, have contributed to policies of cultural assimilation which in the past have seriously harmed indigenous populations in various ways,” Francis said during his weekly address to people in St. Peter’s Square.
Around 150,000 children have been taken from their homes. Many were victims of physical and sexual abuse during what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.
The stated goal of the schools, which operated between 1831 and 1996, was to assimilate Aboriginal children. They were run by Christian denominations on behalf of the government, mostly by the Catholic Church.
Schools were at the center of discussions between the pope and indigenous peoples at the Vatican in March and April. Recalling the meetings, Francis said on Sunday he had expressed “my pain and my solidarity with the harm they have endured”.
“I am about to make a pilgrimage of penance which I hope with the grace of God can contribute to the path of healing and reconciliation that has already been started,” he said.
He called on the faithful to “accompany me with prayers” during the trip.
Looking for more than an excuse
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission – which from 2008 to 2015 examined the record of the residential school system in Canada – has called for a papal apology as part of its 94 calls to action.
New demands for accountability came after more than 200 unmarked graves were discovered in British Columbia last year by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was run by the Roman Catholic Church.
Hundreds of other potential unmarked burial sites have since been found in other locations across Canada.
Some survivors and advocates want more than an apology from the Pope. Calls have been made for the Catholic Church to release all residential school documents and records to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.
Some also want Indian day school survivors to have their experiences recognized.
Although separate from the residential school system, Indian or federal day schools were part of the federal policy to assimilate Indigenous children and often had religious affiliations. The Roman Catholic Church operated the majority of the approximately 700 schools.
Visit comes amid health concerns
On June 23, the Vatican confirmed that the Canadian visit will continue even though Francis is struggling with health issues.
The 85-year-old pope had to cancel a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in early July due to a knee problem that forced him to first use a wheelchair and then a cane .
In an interview with Reuters on July 2, he gave details of his ailment publicly for the first time, saying he had suffered “a small fracture” in his knee when he stumbled while a ligament was inflamed.
The pope has issued other apologies in recent years.
He traveled to Bolivia in 2015, where he asked forgiveness for the Church’s crimes against indigenous peoples during Latin America’s colonial era. During a trip to Ireland in 2018, he issued a general apology for the crimes of the Catholic Church there, saying church officials had often failed to respond with compassion to the many abuses including children. and women had been victimized over the years.
A National Residential School Crisis Line has been established to provide support to residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.
Support is also available for anyone affected by their Indian or Federal Day School experience. People can access mental health counseling and crisis intervention immediately at the Hope for Wellness Helpline by calling 1-855-242-3310 or online at www.hopeforwellness.ca.