MASKWACIS, Alberta (AP) – Pope Francis has apologized for the Catholic Church’s cooperation with Canada’s “disruptive” policy of Indigenous residential schools, saying that forced integration of Indigenous peoples into the Christian community has destroyed their cultures, severing their families and marginalizing generations in ways that are still felt today.
“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil that so many Christians have committed against the natives,” Francis said near the site of the former Ermenskine Indian Residential School, now largely demolished, on the four-country lands of the Cree region south of Edmonton, Alberta.
The long-awaited apology opened Francis’ week-long “journey of repentance” to Canada, which aims to help the church on the path to reconciliation with the indigenous population and to help the victims heal.
Francis’ words on Monday went beyond his earlier apology for the “unfortunate” actions of the missionaries and instead took responsibility for the church’s institutional cooperation with its “disastrous” policy of assimilation, which the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission said amounted to a “cultural genocide”. “
This is an urgent news update. The previous story for the Associated Press follows below.
MASQUASIS, Alberta (Associated Press) – Pope Francis on Monday arrived at the site of a former Aboriginal residential school to deliver a long-awaited apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s policy of forcibly assimilation of Aboriginals into the Christian community that has led to generations of trauma and abuse. .
Francis, clasping his hands under his chin, prayed in a cemetery near the site of the former Ermenskine Indian Residential School, now largely demolished, before four chiefs escorted him to a gathering of thousands of Aboriginal people. After a traditional Aboriginal drummer played and sang to welcome Francis, the Pope prayed in silence and the sun peeked out after a morning of rain.
One of the event’s hosts, President Randy Ermineskin of Ermineskin Cree Nation, waited for the Pope in a nearby car park and assessed the day’s historic import.
“My late family members aren’t here with us anymore, my parents went to boarding school, I went to boarding school,” he told The Associated Press, wearing the traditional headdress made of feathers. “I know they’re with me, they’re listening, they’re watching.”
Many of the crowd wore traditional costume, including striped skirts and jackets with original motifs. Others wore orange shirts, which became a symbol of residential school survivors, recalling the story of a woman who remembered that her favorite orange shirt, given by her grandmother, was confiscated upon her arrival at a residential school and replaced with a uniform.
On his arrival Sunday in the Albertas capital, Edmonton, Francis greeted representatives of Canada’s three main indigenous groups – First Nations, Metis and Inuit – along with high-ranking political and ecclesiastical figures. At the welcome party, Francis kissed the hand of a boarding school survivor, Elder Alma Degarlay of Frog Lake First Nations, a gesture of humility and respect he used in the past when meeting Holocaust survivors.
The Canadian government acknowledged the prevalence of physical and sexual abuse in government-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s. About 150,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their families and forced to attend in an attempt to isolate them from the influence of their indigenous homes, languages and cultures and to integrate them into the Canadian Christian community.
Catholic congregations operated 66 of Canada’s 139 boarding schools, where thousands of children died from disease, fire, and other causes.
Francis’ six-day trip — which will also include other locations in Alberta, as well as Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north — comes on the heels of meetings he held in the spring at the Vatican with delegations from First Nations, Metis and Inuit. Those meetings culminated in a historic apology on 1 April for the “unfortunate” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in boarding schools.
The first Pope of the Americas was bent on making the trip, although a torn knee ligament forced him to cancel a visit earlier this month to Africa. Francis, 85, described it as a “repentant journey” to help the Catholic Church reconcile with indigenous people and help them heal from what the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission said was “cultural genocide”.
The same commission report called on Francis to apologize for the violations on Canadian soil, a request he fulfilled during the trip.
Thousands of children died from disease, fire and other causes. The discoveries of hundreds of potential burial sites in former schools in the past year have drawn international attention to the heritage of schools in Canada and their counterparts in the United States.
Maskwacis, located about an hour south of Edmonton, is the center of the four states of the Cree region.
Event organizers said they would do everything they could to make sure survivors could attend the event. Many will travel from parking and rides, and organizers acknowledge that many survivors are elderly and will need accessible vehicles, diabetes-friendly snacks, and other amenities.
Catholics ran the majority of Canadian schools, while various Protestant denominations ran other schools in cooperation with the government.
As part of settling a lawsuit involving the government, churches and nearly 90,000 students alive, Canada has paid billions of dollars in damages to be transferred to Aboriginal communities. The Catholic Church in Canada says its dioceses and congregations have made more than $50 million in cash and in-kind contributions, and it hopes to add another $30 million over the next five years.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year apologized for the government’s “incredibly harmful policy” in regulating the residential school system, will also attend the Maskwacis event along with other government officials.
At Maskwacis, the former school that Francis visits has been replaced by a school system run by the four local Cree nations. The curriculum emphasizes the indigenous culture that was once suppressed.
Greg Degarlais, president of Frog Lake First Nation in northern Alberta, a survivor of the school, said after the pope’s arrival on Sunday that there were “mixed feelings across this country” about his visit.
“Today I am thinking of the young people who could not go home and were buried around boarding schools,” he told a news conference after the airport welcome party. But he expressed optimism that the visit could begin to achieve reconciliation.
“I know when two people apologize, we feel better,” he said. “But our people have gone through a lot. …Our people have been traumatized. Some of them have not even made it home. Now I hope the world will see why our people have been so hurt.”
On Monday afternoon, Francis is scheduled to visit the Church of the Sacred Heart of the First Peoples, a Catholic diocese in Edmonton geared towards Aboriginal people and their culture. The church, whose sanctuary was consecrated last week after being restored from a fire, incorporates indigenous language and customs into the liturgy.
“Never in my life did I think I would see a Pope here at Sacred Heart Church,” said Verney Marti, who holds the title of Church Elder. “Now we have this opportunity.”
When Francis visits, the church will display the clothes, bread and other supplies it regularly supplies to those in need, including many of Edmonton’s estimated 75,000 indigenous people.
Her pastor, Reverend Jisoo Sosai, said the visit would be a “meeting” that would help “people know who we are and who we are.”
Associated Press reporters Rob Gillis in Toronto contributed to this report.
The Associated Press’s religious coverage is supported by an Associated Press collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
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