On his trip to Canada, Pope Francis apologized for the Church’s role in abuses of Indigenous peoples at the Canadian residential school system.

“With shame and unambiguously, I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples. I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry.

Sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry. In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children.”

He was speaking to indigenous groups in the Bear Park Pow-Wow Grounds in Maskwacis, a rural town one hour south of Edmonton that is part of the the ancestral territory of the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.

I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.” 

There, he returned a pair of moccasins given to him in Rome by Indigenous leaders months ago. 

“A sign of the suffering endured by indigenous children, particularly those who, unfortunately, never came back from the residential schools. This symbol over the past few months has kept alive my sense of sorrow, indignation and shame. The memory of those children is indeed painful; it urges us to work to ensure that every child is treated with love, honour and respect. At the same time, those moccasins also speak to us of a path to follow, a journey that we desire to make together. We want to walk together, to pray together and to work together, so that the sufferings of the past can lead to a future of justice, healing and reconciliation.”

After Pope Francis’ speech, Chief Wilton Littlechild placed a feather headdress on his head. Pope Francis also kissed a red banner with the names of 4,000+ children who died in residential schools.

Before his address, he prayed in a cemetery near a former residential school which has unmarked graves of children who die there.

“Our own efforts are not enough to achieve healing and reconciliation: we need God’s grace. We need the quiet and powerful wisdom of the Spirit, the tender love of the Comforter. May he bring to fulfilment the deepest expectations of our hearts. May he take us by the hand and enable us to advance together on our journey.”

Photo credit: Vatican Media, Fair Use
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