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Pope Francis received a gift from Rhoda Ungalaq, a representative of Canada's Inuit, during a meeting with members of three Canadian Indigenous groups in the Vatican's Clementine Hall April 1.
Pope Francis received a gift from Rhoda Ungalaq, a representative of Canada's Inuit, during a meeting with members of three Canadian Indigenous groups in the Vatican's Clementine Hall April 1.
Photo Credit: Vatican Media

Pope apologizes for treatment of Indigenous in Canada, promises to visit

Canadian Indigenous group gave pope moccasins, invited him to walk with them

VATICAN CITY -- Expressing "sorrow and shame" for the complicity of Catholics in abusing Indigenous children in Canada and helping in the attempt to erase their culture, Pope Francis pledged to address the issue more fully when he visits Canada.

Saying he was impressed by their devotion to St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, the centerpiece of the popular Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage, scheduled this year for July 25-28, Pope Francis told them, "This year, I would like to be with you in those days."

The Shrine of St. Anne, on Lac Ste. Anne, is located in central Alberta, not far from Edmonton.

"For the deplorable conduct of members of the Catholic Church, I ask God's forgiveness and I want to tell you with all my heart, I am very grieved," the pope told them April 1. "And I join my brother bishops of Canada in apologizing to you."

Gathered in the frescoed Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, representatives of the Métis, Inuit and First Nations shared their prayers, music, dance and gifts with the pope.

The pope had held separate meetings March 28 with representatives of the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and met March 31 with delegates from the Assembly of First Nations. They were accompanied by six Canadian bishops.

Addressing all the delegates and their supporters at the end of the week, Pope Francis recalled that several delegates compared their communities to branches, growing in different directions, buffeted by wind, but still living because they are attached to the trunk and the tree's deep roots.

"Your tree, which bears fruit, has suffered a tragedy, which you told me about in these past few days: uprooting," he said. The normal transmission of language, culture and spirituality from one generation to the next "was broken by colonialization, which, without respect, tore many of you" from your homelands and tried to force them to adopt other ways.

Catholics could not use trying to evangelize the Indigenous as an excuse of running the schools because "the faith cannot be transmitted in a way contrary to the faith itself," the pope said.

The Gospel calls Christians "to welcome, love, serve and not judge," he said, and it is "a frightening thing" when, in the name of that faith, Christians act the opposite.

"Through your voices," he told the delegates, "I have been able to touch with my own hands and carry within me, with great sadness in my heart, the stories of suffering, deprivation, discriminatory treatment and various forms of abuse suffered by many of you, particularly in residential schools."

Pope Francis said that it is "chilling" to think of how much thought and effort went into designing and running a system aimed at instilling "a sense inferiority" in the students and the attempt "to make someone lose his or her cultural identity, to sever their roots, with all the personal and social consequences that this has entailed and continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas."

"I feel shame and sorrow for the role that some Catholics, with educational responsibilities, have played in all that has hurt you, in the abuse and disrespect of your identity and culture and even your spiritual values," he said.


Earlier story 

Canadian Indigenous give pope moccasins, invite him to walk with them

VATICAN CITY — Members of the Métis National Council gave Pope Francis a set of beaded moccasins and asked him to walk with them on the path of truth, justice and healing of Canada’s Indigenous communities and their relationship with the Catholic Church, said Cassidy Caron, president of the council.

Led by two fiddlers, the delegates walked from under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square to a prearranged spot where dozens of reporters waited to hear about their meeting March 28 with Pope Francis.

The delegates from the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami had separate meetings with the pope March 28. The delegation from the Assembly of First Nations was scheduled to meet him March 31.

The delegations’ trip to Rome, accompanied by six Canadian bishops, was designed to give them an opportunity to explain to Pope Francis how the communities live and struggle today and how the Catholic Church and its institutions contributed to those struggles, especially by running residential schools where the Indigenous languages and cultural expressions were banned and where many students experienced abuse.

Before their meetings, leaders of all the groups said they want an apology from the pope for the Catholic Church’s role in running the schools. About 60% of the 139 schools across Canada were run by Catholic religious orders or dioceses. According to the government, which funded the schools, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend the schools between the 1870s and 1997.

The groups want Pope Francis to go to Canada and publicly apologize there for the Church’s treatment of Indigenous peoples and its collaboration with colonizers. The Vatican has said Pope Francis is willing to make the trip, although it has not said when.

The three groups together, along with family members and supporters, were to meet again with the pope April 1 to hear his response to what they had shared.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis also want “unfettered access” to the records of the Church-run schools, said Caron, president of the Métis organization.

She led her community’s meeting with the pope wearing a jacket with traditional beading that had been given to her for the occasion.

She said three of the delegates, survivors of residential schools, shared their stories with the pope. They “did an incredible job of standing up and telling their truth. They were so brave and so courageous.”

“We invited Pope Francis and Catholics all around the world to join us, the Métis nation, on our pathway of truth, justice and healing, and we hope that in committing to us, committing to real action, that the church can finally begin its own pathway toward meaningful and lasting reconciliation,” Caron told reporters.

“The only words he spoke back to us in English … were ‘truth, justice and healing’ and I take that as a personal commitment,” she said. “So, he has personally committed to those three actions.”

Natan Obed, president of the the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said he introduced the group to the pope by explaining that there are many Inuit who are practicing Catholics, who have a strong faith, which helps them be positive influences on their communities. But, “there also are many who are still struggling to have any sort of relationship with the Catholic Church because of the trauma that they themselves have experienced or the trauma that their loved ones have experienced.”

The delegation entered the papal library and lighted a qulliq, a traditional Inuit lamp. And at the end of the meeting, they recited the Lord’s Prayer in Inuktitut, their language, Obed said. They gave Pope Francis a seal skin liturgical stole and a rosary case, also made of seal skin.

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