VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis on Friday apologized to the indigenous people for the “miserable” abuses they suffered in Canada’s Catholic boarding schools, and said he hoped to visit Canada in late July to personally apologize to the survivors. the erroneous missionary zeal of the church.
Francis apologized during an audience with dozens of members of the Methodius, Inuit and Indigenous communities who came to Rome seeking papal apologies and commitments from the Catholic Church to repair the damage. The first Pope from America said he hopes to visit Canada around St. Anne’s Day, which falls on July 26.
More than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century to the 1970s to isolate them from the influence of their homes and culture. The goal was to Christianize and assimilate them into a basic society that previous Canadian governments considered supreme.
The Government of Canada has acknowledged that physical and sexual violence has spread in schools and students have been beaten for speaking their mother tongue. This legacy of abuse and isolation from the family has been cited by indigenous leaders as a major cause of epidemic levels of alcohol and drug addiction now in Canadian reservations.
After hearing their stories all week, Francis told the natives that the colonial project had snatched children from their families, cut off their roots, traditions and culture and caused trauma between generations that is still felt today. He said it was a “counter-witness” to the same gospel that was allegedly supported by the boarding school system.
“I apologize to the Lord for the sad behavior of these members of the Catholic Church,” Francis said. “And I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart that I am in a lot of pain. And I unite with the Canadian bishops in apology. “
The indigenous people’s trip to Rome took several years to prepare, but gained momentum last year after hundreds of unmarked graves were found near some boarding schools in Canada. This week, three indigenous groups met separately with Francis for several hours, telling him their stories, culminating in an audience on Friday.
Metis National Council President Cassidy Caron said Elder Metis, who was sitting next to her, burst into tears when she heard what she said was a long apology.
“Today’s words of the Pope were certainly historic. They were needed, and I really appreciate them, ”Karon told reporters in St. Peter’s Square. “And now I look forward to the Pope’s visit to Canada, where he can bring these sincere words of forgiveness directly to our survivors and their families, whose acceptance and healing are ultimately most important.”
The head of the first nations, Gerald Antoine, reiterated these sentiments, saying that Francis recognized the cultural “genocide” inflicted by the indigenous people.
“Today is the day we have been waiting for. And, of course, the one that will rise in our history, ”he said. “This is the first historical step, but only the first.”
He and other indigenous leaders said the church needed to do much more on the path of reconciliation, but so far indigenous leaders are insisting on organizing a papal visit to make sure Francis stops at places of spiritual significance to their people. .
Nathan Lunch, Inuit President Tapirit Kanatami, thanked Francis for addressing all the issues that the natives had brought to him. “And he did it in a way that really demonstrated his empathy for the indigenous people of Canada,” he said.
Nearly three-quarters of Canada’s 130 boarding schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations.
Last May, the nation of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc announced the discovery of 215 graves near Kamloops, British Columbia, that had been found using penetrating radar. It was Canada’s largest boarding school for Indigenous people, and the discovery of graves was the first of many similar gloomy sites across the country.
Even before the graves were discovered, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission specifically called for a papal apology on Canadian soil for the church’s role in the abuses.
In addition, as part of a lawsuit involving the Canadian government, churches and some 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid billions of dollars in reparations to indigenous communities. The Catholic Church, for its part, has paid more than $ 50 million and now intends to add another $ 30 million over the next five years.
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Francis ’apologies and said he was looking forward to him personally delivering them to Canada.
“This apology would not have happened without the long advocacy of the survivors, who went to tell their truth directly to the responsible institution, and who told and experienced their painful memories,” he said. “Today’s apology is a step forward in acknowledging the truth of our past to correct historical grievances, but there is still work to be done.”
Francis said he was ashamed of the role Catholic educators had played in harming, “abusing and disrespecting your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” he said. “Obviously, the content of faith cannot be conveyed in a way that is indirect to faith itself.”
“It’s scary to think of a determined effort to instill a sense of inferiority, deprive people of their cultural identity, tear off their roots and take into account all the personal and social consequences it continues to entail: unresolved trauma that has occurred by the way. “Injuries to generations,” he said.
After the papal apology, the audience continued the joyful performance of the prayers of the indigenous people by drummers, dancers and violinists, whom Francis watched, applauded and raised his thumb. The natives then handed him gifts, including snowshoes. Francis, for his part, returned the cradle of the first nations that the delegation had left with him for the night as he pondered his apologies.
Francis’ apology went far beyond what Pope Benedict XVI proposed in 2009 when a delegation from the Assembly of First Nations visited. At the time, Benedict only expressed “grief over the suffering caused by the deplorable behavior of some members of the church.” But he did not apologize.
The Argentine Pope is no stranger to apologizing for his own mistakes and for what he himself called “crimes” of the institutional church. Most importantly, during a visit to Bolivia in 2015, he apologized for the sins, crimes, and crimes committed by the church against indigenous peoples during the conquest of America in the colonial era.
He made it clear that the same colonial crimes took place recently in Canada in Catholic-run boarding schools.
“Your identity and culture have been hurt, many families have been torn apart, many children have fallen victim to this homogenization campaign, supported by the idea that progress comes through ideological colonization, according to programs studied at the table rather than with respect for people’s lives, ”he said.
This version corrects the name of the leader of the first nations to Gerald Antoine.