Pope Francis begs forgiveness over abuse at church schools in Canada

Date Added: July 26, 2022 05:09:10 AM
Author: Sutra Web Directory
Category: Regional: Canada
Pope Francis has apologised for the “disastrous error” and “evil” of Canada’s church-run residential schools, asking survivors of the system that abused tens of thousands of children for forgiveness as he toured the country on a “pilgrimage of penance”.

The pontiff’s widely anticipated apology came during a Monday morning visit to the community of Maskwacis, Alberta – the first formal event of his one-week tour after landing in the western province on Sunday.

“I am sorry. I ask for 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,” Francis said, telling nearly 2,000 survivors of the residential school system of his “indignation” and “shame” over the painful memory of the treatment of Indigenous children.

Francis also lamented the “colonising mentality” behind the system and “catastrophic” effects it had on generations of Indigenous people. “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” he said.

He and the survivors had gathered at the Powwow Arbour – a space for First Nations community gatherings and celebrations.

The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, the governor general, Mary Simon, the Assembly of First Nations national chief, RoseAnne Archibald, and a number of federal lawmakers were also in attendance.

The event at Maskwacis (Cree for “bear hills”), the site of Ermineskin, Samson, Louis Bull and Montana nations, is the only First Nations community Francis will visit on his tour of Canada. The location also marks the site of the former Ermineskin residential school, one of the largest of its kind in the country, which ran from 1895 until 1975.

An anguished rendering of Canada’s national anthem in Cree by an Indigenous woman with tears streaming down her face marked one of several emotional moments on Monday.

“It’s a special moment for survivors,” said Phil Fontaine, a residential school survivor and former Assembly of First Nations national chief, who was at the event.

The unscripted moment capped a ceremony fraught with symbolism. Some at the event wore indigenous regalia, while others wore orange shirts to mark the legacy of the residential school system and the children who never came home from the institutions. People watched intently as the pope spoke, while others leaned on each other. Some wept.

After the pope spoke, Chief Wilton Littlechild placed a feather headdress on the pontiff as the crowd cheered.

Over more than a century, at least 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend schools like Ermineskin, run by the Catholic church.

Survivors of the school have testified about physical abuse as well as punishment for speaking their mother tongue. At least 15 children died while attending the school, including three of tuberculosis in 1903. A government survey in the 1920s found that half of the pupils at the school were infected with tuberculosis, according to the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.

The school has largely been torn down and five teepees now stand at the site, representing the four nations in the area, with the fifth serving as a symbol of the entrance to where the school once stood.

In 2008, the federal government formally apologised for establishing and running the schools, paying billions of Canadian dollars in compensation to survivors.

While both the Protestant and Anglican churches ran schools, the majority, nearly 130, were operated by the Catholic church. Yet the Vatican for years had repeatedly resisted calls for a papal apology.

Before visiting the site of the school, Francis toured the Ermineskin cemetery, where many who attended the school are now buried.

“I do know when two people have apologised, we feel better,” Chief Greg Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nation in northern Alberta, and a residential school survivor, told reporters on Sunday. “But our people have been through a lot … Our people have been traumatised. Some of them didn’t make it home. Now I hope the world will see why our people are so hurt.”

Ahead of the pope’s remarks, a banner bearing the names of more than 4,000 children who died in the residential school system was unfurled on the arbour grounds.

The pope’s apology in the presence of Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors, given on the traditional territory of those affected by the legacy of the schools, marks the second time he has looked to atone to the church’s past actions.

In April, during a meeting with Indigenous delegates at the Vatican, Francis apologised to survivors, formally expressing contrition for “deplorable” past abuses.

Later on Monday, Francis is expected to visit a Catholic parish in the provincial capital of Edmonton. The church incorporates Indigenous language and customs in liturgy. In the coming days, the pope will travel to Quebec City and Iqaluit, the capital of the northern Nunavut territory.

Reuters contributed to this report