Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of Catholics and Vatican head of state, has apologized for the abuse and mistreatment of indigenous children in church boarding schools in Canada
Describing his visit to Canada as a “penitential pilgrimage,” the Pope attended a public event in Edmonton, the first stop on his trip, with indigenous leaders, survivors of church residential schools and politicians.
The event, attended by Governor General of Canada Mary Simon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, cabinet members and many others, was held at the site of the former Ermineskin Residential Church School in the community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton.
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The Pope watched the traditional rites of the indigenous people and was presented with gifts by local tribal leaders.
Here, the Pope gave a woman representing the locals the shoes he had brought from the Vatican, which belonged to a child who died while staying in a church boarding school.
An indigenous representative also presented the Pope with one of the eagle feathered headdresses they wear on their heads and an indigenous drum.
After wearing the eagle-feathered indigenous headdress for a while, the Pope removed it and prayed with the participants.
“I humbly ask for forgiveness”
“I humbly ask for forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against indigenous peoples,” Pope Francis said in his speech at the event.
These words of the Pope were applauded by the indigenous people in the area. Apologizing on behalf of members of the Catholic Church who collaborated in the “destructive” policy against indigenous peoples in Canadian parochial boarding schools, the Pope told the Christian community that forced assimilation destroyed indigenous cultures, broke up families and marginalized them in ways that are still felt today.
“Here, in connection with painful memories, I would like to begin what I consider a pilgrimage. It is a pilgrimage of repentance,” the Pope said, pointing to the former Ermineskin Residential Church School, one of Canada’s largest church boarding schools.
The Pope, who repeatedly apologized and asked for forgiveness in his speech, also expressed regret for the actions of the past, supported by many members of the Church, which reflected the “catastrophic error” and “tragic evil” of the boarding schools.
Saying that the memories of the children who did not return from boarding schools left him with a sense of “pain, anger and shame”, Pope Francis went beyond his earlier apology and asked for forgiveness for the “cruel” actions of the missionaries.
In his speech, the Pope expressed the following views:
“Many of you and your representatives have said that asking for forgiveness is not the end of the matter. I fully agree, it is only the first step and the starting point. I am also aware that no effort has been made to look to the past to ask for forgiveness and repair the damage. It is an important part of this process that no effort is spared to look to the future and create a culture that can prevent such situations from happening.”
Tomorrow, the Pope will lead a large outdoor Mass at Edmonton City Stadium before traveling to Quebec City.