Pope Francis to travel to Canada to apologize to indigenous peoples

OTTAWA. Pope Francis travels to Canada this week to apologize to indigenous communities for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the country’s infamous boarding school system, where thousands of indigenous children have died and countless children have been sexually and physically abused.

The visit comes after years of requests by indigenous leaders and leading politicians to apologize to the Vatican for schools that were set up to erase indigenous culture and language by forcibly separating children from their families in order to assimilate them into Western ways.

And some Indigenous leaders say it will fill in one of the biggest remaining pieces in Canada’s reconciliation efforts over the brutal education system that the national commission has declared a form of “cultural genocide.”

“Many of us have had thoughts about the Catholic Church for a long time, and this particular moment can cast aside those doubts that were there,” said Phil Fontaine, former national head of the Indigenous Assembly, who was one of the original leaders 32 years ago. indigenous peoples who publicly described his mistreatment in Catholic boarding schools.

“For all this to work, you have to be able to forgive,” he added. “Which means you have to reconcile with the church.

But others, especially some young indigenous people, greet the pope’s visit with indifference.

“I don’t care about the Pope, I’m very critical of the Pope’s visit,” said Riley Yesno, 23, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto and an Eabametung First Nations representative in Ontario. “And I say this as someone whose grandparents went to Catholic boarding schools. I don’t understand how any of these words he’s about to say will actually fix the damage done by boarding schools. I don’t know if this will bring healing to my grandparents.”

14 years ago, the Canadian government officially apologized for the schools and paid former students billions of dollars in compensation. Protestant churches, which had also long been involved in schools, followed suit.

The Catholic Church operates 60 to 70 percent of the approximately 130 boarding schools under contract to the government. However, the Vatican has repeatedly resisted the pope’s calls for an apology over the years.

That changed this year after a delegation representing Canada’s three largest indigenous groups traveled to the Vatican in March to once again demand an apology from Canada. The Pope, who apologized to the Vatican, expressing “sadness and shame” for the insults to which the indigenous people were subjected, they agreed to apologize in Canada as well.

The focus of the pope’s visit last Sunday was “healing and reconciliation” with Canada’s indigenous communities, he said. But Francis’ trip comes at a time when the church is struggling to stay relevant to its other Canadian followers.

Catholics remain the largest religious group in this predominantly Christian country, with about 38 percent of Canadians identifying as Catholic. Unlike some Protestant denominations, which are in free fall, the proportion of people identifying as Catholic has dropped slightly from 43 percent in 1951. In a country with high levels of immigration, people who identify as Catholics make up the largest group of newcomers. .

But the number of Catholics who actively practice their faith has declined significantly in recent decades, according to polls, especially in the province of Quebec, where the church was once a powerful political force, but where sales of unused churches widespread.

For Francis, the six-day trip will mark the end of a long drought. This will be his first trip from Rome since April, when he spent weekend in Malta where he called for better treatment of migrants.

Vatican suddenly postponed a six-day trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan scheduled for early July due to the Pope’s ongoing knee problems that are making it difficult for him to walk.

Francis also suffers from sciatica, a chronic nerve condition that causes pain in her back, hips, and legs. BUT a year ago he underwent surgery to remove part of his colon, which left him hospitalized for 10 days.

Now he regularly appears in public with a cane or in a wheelchair, for which he apologized. remaining seated during public audiences.

In Canada, even though the pope will be visiting two provinces and the Arctic community of Iqaluit, the trip does reflect orders from his doctors to take it easy.

Except for the last day of the visit, which will take him to Quebec, the pope will follow uncharacteristically light schedulewith no more than one or two public events per day.

Matteo Bruni, a spokesman for the Vatican, said Francis should not seek additional medical care during the trip. He added that circumstances will determine whether the Pope gets around on foot or in a wheelchair, or with a cane or other support.

“We will see moment by moment,” he said. Francis may also use an open car more “so he can get closer to people and be seen.”

Francis will deliver his message of repentance to the small First Nations Cree community in Alberta, where a church boarding school once stood.

From the 1880s to the 1990s, the Canadian government forcibly removed at least 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes and sent them to boarding schools. Their languages, as well as religious and cultural practices, were banned, sometimes with violence.

In 2015, the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that, in addition to eradicating indigenous culture, thousands of children died from various causes while attending usually underfunded and overcrowded schools. These causes include rampant disease, malnutrition, accidents, fires, and abuse.

Historians are still trying to determine the number of students who died in schools. Murray Sinclair, a former judge who led the commission, said he estimated that more than 10,000 children never returned home.

According to the records and testimony of the commission of more than 6,000 former students, physical and sexual abuse by Catholic brothers, nuns, priests and lay people was widespread. His 92 recommendations included asking the pope to come to Canada to apologize directly to Indigenous peoples.

It is not clear why exactly Francis abandoned the Vatican’s earlier opposition to such an apology.

But many indigenous people attribute the change to the gruesome find announced just over a year ago at the former Kamloops Indian boarding school in the arid mountains of British Columbia’s interior. An analysis of ground-penetrating radar scans found evidence, consistent with testimonies from former students, that hundreds of students were buried in unmarked graves on the school grounds.

Similar searches are now underway across the country and have revealed signs of more than 1,000 unmarked graves. Indigenous communities are struggling to decide whether to exhume these remains or leave them where they are.

“It was a defining moment,” said M. Fontaine, the former national head of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples, who first demanded an apology from Pope Benedict XVI during a meeting in the Vatican 13 years ago. “And it not only shocked Canadians, but the whole world turned to Canada.”

Francis called the trip to Canada “a penitential pilgrimage”.

Appeal to pilgrims in St. Petra square load Francis said that week he was going to Canada to “meet and hug the indigenous people.”

“Unfortunately, in Canada, many Christians, including some members of religious institutions, have contributed to cultural assimilation policies that have severely damaged indigenous communities in the past,” Francis said.

The pope’s lack of apology has been a source of tension between the Catholic Churches in Canada and First Nations. The churches paid only CAD$1.2 million of the $25 million promised in compensation. The churches launched a fundraiser last fall with the goal of raising 30 million Canadian dollars.

Like many young indigenous people, G. Yesno, a doctoral student, said she believes the time for apologies and gestures of reconciliation is past and that the government needs to return land to indigenous communities, give them political autonomy over it, and financial means to govern her.

“We are more interested in material deals and material compensation,” said Ms. Yes, he said.

Jan Austin reported from Ottawa, and Elisabetta Povoledo reported from Rome.