Pope Francis has apologized in Canada for the deaths and abuses against children from native communities at Catholic residential schools.
The Argentine-born religious leader asked for forgiveness for the evil that so many Christians committed against indigenous peoples in residential schools that operated between the late 19th century and the 1990s and regretted the colonialist mentality of the members of the Church, who caused the cultural destruction of indigenous groups.
I ask forgiveness for the way in which, unfortunately, many Christians adopted the colonialist mentality of the powers that oppressed indigenous peoples; I am hurt, Francis told some 2,000 representatives of the native communities in his first speech on Canadian soil.
I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, also through indifference, in those projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation by the governments of the time, which ended in the residential school system, he added.
The Pope spoke in a part of Canada where there once functioned one of the 139 residential schools through which 150,000 native children were separated from their parents in order to westernize their customs.
I humbly ask for forgiveness for the evil that so many Christians committed against the indigenous peoples, Francis told representatives of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in front of the Ermineskin site, where one of the largest residential schools for native children operated between 1895 and 1975 in Maskwacis, 100 kilometers south of Edmonton.
Among indigenous leaders, the words were seen as a sense of hope, a first step, the President of the Métis Nation of the State of Alberta, Audrey Poitras, told Télam.
We have to follow the Pope's words and it is important to work together. Today was an excellent new beginning, we heard from the Pope the things we for so long asked for, she added after the Pope's speech was witnessed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Monsignor Jorge Bergoglio also spoke of harmful policies when speaking about the 139 residential schools built by the State in Canada, of which about 50 were managed by Christian institutions, while considering the practice a catastrophic experience and a devastating mistake.
I come to your native lands to tell you personally that I am hurt, to implore God for forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation, to express my closeness to you, to pray with you and for you, underlined the pontiff after visiting an indigenous cemetery, where he prayed in solitude seated in his wheelchair.
Before beginning his speech, the Pope was offered a festival of native songs and dances by indigenous peoples who arrived at Maskwacis Park in ancestral costumes and listened to the thanksgiving of one of the chiefs, Wilton Litllechild, who attended Ermineskin's boarding school for 14 years. Litllechild thanked the Pope for his words from the heart.
I was a student here at Ermineskin Residential School, which, by your visit among us this day, represents all the residential schools in our country, the indigenous leader told the Pope.
Other survivors also paraded with a red flag bearing the names of 4,120 identified residential school victims that had earlier been blessed by the Pope.
The Pope's visit to Canada in response to a request from the Committee for Reconciliation and Truth created by the Canadian government together with indigenous institutions comes four months after visits to the Vatican by First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegations, during which Francis showed them his shame and pain.
Francis also said that the memory of these children provokes affliction and urges action so that all children are treated with love, honor, and respect. He also called for a serious search for the truth about the past by the Church in addition to the investigations already undertaken by the Canadian federal government.
Although Christian charity has been present and there are many exemplary cases of dedication to children, the overall consequences of the policies linked to residential schools have been catastrophic, the Pope admitted.
Survivor Angie Crerar added that the Pope's apology was very important because his empathy and sincerity were noted.
It was something that took us years to hear and it allows us to start again with an open heart. May this be the first step to move forward.