Why Pope Francis Is Apologizing to Indigenous People During Canada Visit

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Pope Francis is visiting Canada for what he calls a “penitential pilgrimage”.

On Sunday, July 24, he was greeted at Edmonton, Alberta, airport by the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, as well as Canada’s first indigenous governor general, Mary Simon.

On Monday, July 25, he is expected to meet with indigenous survivors of school abuse, near Maskwacis.

He will be praying at a cemetery and publicly apologizing to Canada’s indigenous community.

Why Is Pope Francis Apologizing to Indigenous People

He is apologizing for missionaries’ abuse that occurred at residential schools.

These schools were designed to “Christianize” indigenous children, by taking them away from their communities, as well as banning them from speaking their native languages.

Starting in the 1880s and for much of the 20th century, “more than 150,000 children from hundreds of Indigenous communities across Canada were forcibly taken from their parents by the government and sent to what were called Residential Schools,” according to CBS News.

Many of these indigenous children were physically and sexually abused.

The remains of hundreds of children have been found on the grounds of former residential schools in Canada.

Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, with others operated by the Presbyterian, Anglican and the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

The Canadian government apologized over the schools in 2008 and, in 2015, the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called what happened there “cultural genocide”.

The Pope’s visit will last a week, during which time he will travel to Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut.

What Has Pope Francis Said About the Abuse of Canadian Indigenous Children in Schools?

At the Vatican in April, Pope Francis apologized to indigenous leaders over the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools, saying he felt: “sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have 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,” CNN reported.

Now he has come to apologize on Canadian soil.

Before this, indigenous groups had been asking for a papal apology for years.

“Papal apologies are based on an understanding that the pope is the leader of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church, connected by tradition throughout time. As a result it is possible for the pope to apologize for an event in the past when he was not pope, or perhaps not born yet, because the church of a thousand years ago is connected to today,” Annie Selak, associate director of the Women’s Center at Georgetown University, wrote in an article for The Conversation in April.

Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told The New York Times that “many of us have had thoughts about the Catholic Church for a long time and this particular moment may sweep aside these doubts that have been there”.

He added that “to make it all work, you have to be able to forgive. And that means you have to make peace with the church.”

However, this sentiment is not necessarily echoed by other members of the indigenous community.

Pope Francis listening to indigenous communities on July, 24 in Canada.
Cole Burston
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