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Pope apologises to Canadian indigenous peoples for Church’s role in their suffering

Following the discovery in May 2021 of the remains of 215 indigenous children who were buried in common graves having been compelled to attend Canada’s largest residential school that had been in operation between 1890 and 1969, Pope Francis issued on Friday a historic apology to Canadian indigenous peoples for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in a number of such residential schools that sought to erase their cultures and caused many children suffering from abuse and burial in unmarked graves.

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Pope Francis addressed native leaders after meetings with delegates from various indigenous nations, saying he hoped to visit Canada in July.

“For the deplorable behaviour of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask forgiveness from God and I would like to tell you from the bottom of my heart that I am very pained,” he said, adding that he joined his brothers “Canadian bishops in apologising.”

“I feel shame – sorrow and shame – for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” Francis said.

The spiritual leader went on to talk about “unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas.” He told the indigenous peoples that he was happy to know that Catholics among them were devoted to St. Anne, the mother of Mary. The feast of St. Anne is July 26.

“This year, I would like to be with you on that day,” he said.

His speech was preceded by prayers by indigenous leaders in native languages asking the “great spirit” to bless all those present.

“Historic” is how one of the leaders described the Pope’s words, whilst another said the other emissaries felt the papal address “reflected the “entirety” of their message to him.

“I now look forward to the pope’s visit to Canada,” one of the leaders said.

Pope Francis issued a historic apology to Canadian indigenous peoples for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools that sought to erase their cultures and where many children suffered abuse and were buried in unmarked graves https://t.co/FSw1oci8LO pic.twitter.com/YxVFaxIj67

— Reuters (@Reuters) April 1, 2022

The apologies came in the context of a series of investigations and discoveries that have taken place over the years with regard to some 150,000 children who were taken from their indigenous homes in Canada, many subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.

The Catholic Church was responsible for the minors’ plight as most of the schools were run between 1831 and 1996 by its representatives with the aim to assimilate indigenous children. However, the callous delivery and heavy-handed approach lead to a range of abuses.

In May 2021, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir announced that the remains of 215 children had been found near the city of Kamloops in southern British Columbia (BC) as part of a preliminary investigation. All of the children are believed to have been students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School — the largest such institution in Canada’s residential school system. This particular school operated between 1890 and 1969.
The discovery caused a reckoning in Canada, with at least 56 churches having been set aflame or vandalized, according to a mapping of the incidents by the True North Centre.


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