Pope apologizes for ‘catastrophic’ school abuse in Canada

MASKWASIS, Alberta (AP) — A Catholic minister has apologized for the Catholic Church’s complicity in the “disastrous” policy of indigenous residential schools, saying the forced assimilation of indigenous peoples into Christian society has destroyed their cultures, destroyed their families and marginalized generations in more ways than one. It is felt today.

“I humbly apologize for the evil that many Christians have done against Aboriginal people,” Francis said at the former Erminskin Indian Residential School, now largely torn down, on the lands of four Cree nations south of Edmonton, Alberta.

The long-awaited pardon opened Francis’ weeklong “pilgrimage of penitence” to Canada to help the church on its path to reconciliation with indigenous peoples and help victims heal.

Francis’ words on Monday went beyond his previous apology for the missionaries’ “deplorable” actions, instead taking responsibility for the church’s institutional cooperation with a “disastrous” assimilation policy that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called “cultural genocide.” “

This is a breaking news update. AP’s previous story is below.

MASKWACIS, Alberta (AP) — Pope Francis visited a former aboriginal residential school Monday to offer a long-awaited apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s policy of forcibly assimilating indigenous people into Christian society. .

Francis folded his hands under his chin and prayed at a grave near the site of the former Erminskin Indian Residential School, now largely torn down, before thousands of indigenous people were gathered by the four chiefs. After welcoming Francis with traditional tribal hand drumming and singing, the Pope prayed quietly as the sun peeked out after a morning of rain.

One of the event’s hosts, Randy Erminskin, president of the Erminskin Cree Nation, waited for the pope in a nearby parking lot and spoke of the historic import of the day.

“My late family members are no longer with us, my parents went to residential school and I went to residential school,” she told The Associated Press, wearing a traditional feathered Cree headdress. “I know they’re with me, they’re listening, they’re watching.”

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Many in the crowd wore traditional dress, including ribbon skirts and vests with native motifs. Others wore orange shirts, which have become a symbol of residential school survivors, as one girl recalled a story of her grandmother giving her her favorite orange shirt.

On his arrival Sunday in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, Francis was greeted by representatives of Canada’s three main indigenous groups — First Nations, Metis and Inuit — along with political and church dignitaries. At the welcoming ceremony, Francis kissed the hand of residential school survivor Alma Desjarlais, Elder of the Frog Lake First Nations, a gesture of humility and respect he has used in the past when meeting Holocaust survivors.

The Canadian government has acknowledged that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in government-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s. Approximately 150,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their families and forced to participate in an effort to integrate them into Canada’s Christian society, isolating them from the influence of their homes, indigenous languages ​​and cultures.

Catholic religious orders run 66 of Canada’s 139 residential schools, where thousands of children died from disease, fire and other causes.

Francis’ six-day trip — which will include other sites in Alberta, as well as Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north — follows meetings he held with First Nations representatives, Métis and representatives at the Vatican in the spring. Inuit. Those meetings culminated in a historic apology on April 1 for “deplorable” abuses by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.

Despite tearing knee ligaments that forced him to cancel a visit to Africa earlier this month, the first pope from the United States remained determined to make the trip. Francis, 85, called it a “pilgrimage of repentance” to help the Catholic Church reconcile with indigenous peoples and help heal from what Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”

The same commission report called on Francis to apologize for abuses on Canadian soil, a demand he is fulfilling through the trip.

Thousands of children died from disease, fire and other causes. The discovery of hundreds of burials in former schools in the past year has drawn international attention to the legacy of schools in Canada and the United States.

Masquasis, about an hour south of Edmonton, is the center of four Cree nations.

Event organizers said they are doing everything possible to ensure survivors attend the event. Many will commute from park and ride locations, and organizers acknowledge that many survivors are elderly and will need accessible vehicles, diabetes-friendly snacks and other amenities.

Catholics operated the majority of Canadian schools, while various Protestant denominations operated other schools with the cooperation of the government.

As part of a lawsuit settlement involving the government, churches and some 90,000 remaining students, Canada has repaid billions of dollars transferred to indigenous communities. The Catholic Church of Canada, its dioceses and religious orders have contributed more than $50 million in cash and in-kind donations and hopes to add another $30 million over the next five years.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year apologized for an “incredibly harmful government policy” in deregulation of the residential school system, will attend the Maskwazis event along with other government officials.

In Maskwacis, the former school that Francis visits has been replaced with a school system run by four local Cree nations. The curriculum affirms the once suppressed tribal culture.

Chief Greg Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nation in northern Alberta, a school survivor, said after the pope’s visit Sunday that there were “mixed feelings across this country” about his visit.

“I think today there are youths who didn’t return home and are buried around the residential schools,” he said at a press conference after the airport welcome ceremony, but he hoped the visit could bring about reconciliation.

“We feel better now that two people have apologized,” he said. “But our people have been through a lot. … Our people are traumatized. Some of them haven’t come home. Now I hope the world will see why our people are hurting so much.

On Monday afternoon, Francis plans to visit the First People’s Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, a Catholic parish dedicated to Indigenous people and culture. The church, which was dedicated last week after being rescued from a fire, incorporates tribal language and customs into its liturgy.

“I never thought in my life that I would see a pope in Sacred Heart Church,” said Fernie Marty, who holds the title of church elder. “Now we have that opportunity.”

During Francis’ visit, the church will display clothing, bread and other items it regularly provides to those in need, including Edmonton’s estimated 75,000 urban Indigenous people.

Its pastor, Rev. Fr. Jesus whispered.


Associated Press reporter Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.


Associated Press religious coverage is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AB is solely responsible for this content.

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