Why Pope Francis Apologizes to Indigenous Peoples During His Visit to Canada


Pope Francis is visiting Canada for what he calls a “penitential pilgrimage”.

On Sunday, July 24, he was greeted at the airport in Edmonton, Alberta by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, Mary Simon.

On Monday, July 25, he is scheduled to meet with Indigenous survivors of school abuse near Maskwacis.

He will pray in a cemetery and publicly apologize to Canada’s Indigenous community.

Why Pope Francis Apologizes to Indigenous Peoples

He apologizes for the mistreatment of missionaries in boarding schools.

These schools were designed to “Christianize” indigenous children, alienating them from their communities, as well as prohibiting them from speaking their mother tongue.

Beginning in the 1880s and continuing through much of the 20th century, “more than 150,000 children from hundreds of Indigenous communities across Canada were forcibly taken from their parents by the government and sent to what were called residential schools. “, according to CBS News.

Many of these indigenous children were physically and sexually abused.

The remains of hundreds of children have been found on the grounds of former residential schools in Canada.

Nearly three-quarters of the 130 boarding schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, with the rest run by Presbyterians, Anglicans and the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

The Canadian government issued an apology for the schools in 2008, and in 2015 the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called what happened there “cultural genocide.”

The Pope’s visit will last for a week, during which he will travel to Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit, Nunavut.

What did Pope Francis say about the abuse of Canadian Indigenous children in schools?

At the Vatican in April, Pope Francis apologized to indigenous leaders for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential schools, saying he felt “sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, especially those with educational responsibilities, have played in all these things that have hurt you, in the abuses you have suffered and in the lack of respect for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values”, reported CNN.

He has now come to apologize on Canadian soil.

Before that, indigenous groups had been asking for a papal apology for years.

“The papal apology is based on the understanding that the pope is the head of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, bound by tradition through time. Accordingly, it is possible for the pope to apologize for an event in the past when he was not pope, or perhaps not yet born, because the church of a thousand years ago is linked to today,” wrote Annie Selak, associate director of the Women’s Center at Georgetown University, in an article for The Conversation in April.

Phil Fontaine, the former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said The New York Times that “many of us have had thoughts about the Catholic Church for a long time and this particular moment can sweep away those doubts that have been there”.

He added that “for everything to work, you have to be able to forgive. And that means you have to make peace with the church.”

However, this sentiment is not necessarily shared by other members of the Aboriginal community.

Pope Francis listens to indigenous communities on July 24 in Canada.
Cole Burston

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