While Pope Francis has undertaken dozens of papal trips during his nearly decade-long pontificate, his trip to Canada this week takes on a different tone — it’s centered on an apology.
The pope has repeatedly described his week-long trip as a “penitential pilgrimage” with the intention of asking forgiveness for the role of the Catholic Church in the Canadian residential school system.
Where will the Pope go in Canada – and what will his message be? The pillar brings you an introduction to the papal journey:
The residential school system in Canada was a network of residential schools for Indigenous students. Between 1863 and 1996, more than 150,000 children attended the schools, most of which were run by Catholics, Anglicans and other religious groups. Until 1948, attendance was compulsory for many First Nations children and children were forcibly separated from their families to attend.
Residential schools were part of a package of policies that amounted to “cultural genocide”, according to an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015. final report on the residential school system.
According to some estimatesup to 70% of the approximately 130 boarding schools were linked to the Catholic Church. According to Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, about 16 of the 61 Roman Catholic dioceses in Canada were associated with the residential school system, as were about 36 of the more than 100 Catholic religious orders in Canada.
The confirmation of nearly 1,000 unmarked children’s graves on school sites last summer sparked national and international outrage and outrage. Tribal leaders have called on the Church to accept responsibility for its role in the systematic effort to erase First Nations culture. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has also called for a papal apology.
At his first official event Monday, a meeting with Indigenous peoples after visiting the site of the Ermineskin Indian Residential School, Pope Francis acknowledged “how the policies of assimilation have come to systematically marginalize Indigenous peoples; how also, through the residential school system, your languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed; how children suffered physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse; how they were taken from their homes at a young age and how this indelibly affected the relationships between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren.
He went on to say:
I am deeply sorry. Sorry for how unfortunately many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry. I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, notably through their indifference, in the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time, which resulted in the residential school system.
Although Christian charity was not absent, and there were many outstanding examples of devotion and care for children, the overall effects of residential school policies were catastrophic. What our Christian faith tells us is that it was a disastrous mistake, incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is painful to think of how the solid soil of values, language and culture that constituted the authentic identity of your peoples has been eroded and you have continued to pay the price. Faced with this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children.
I wish to reaffirm it myself, with shame and without ambiguity. I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples.
No. In late March and early April of this year, a delegation of 30 indigenous leaders, residential school survivors and youth traveled to Rome to speak with the pontiff. At this meeting, Pope Francis apologized for the role of the Catholic Church in the residential school system.
“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask forgiveness from the Lord,” he said. “I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart that I am very saddened. And I join the Canadian bishops in apologizing.
The pope’s apology to Canada builds on his previous apologies, as well as those of the bishops of Canada.
Pope Francis will meet with Indigenous peoples in Edmonton and Quebec. He will meet former residential school students and hear their stories of how residential schools affected them and their families.
The pope will celebrate mass and participate in the annual pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anna.
His visit will also include events typical of his other papal trips, including meetings with government officials, clergy, local Jesuits and local youth.
The Secretariat of the Papal Visit to Canada, established by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said The pillar that the Pope’s visit is an important step in the journey towards healing. But that’s not the only thing needed to move forward.
“There is no single step that can eliminate the pain felt by residential school survivors or victims of historic and ongoing trauma stemming from residential schools, but we pray that this papal visit will bring greater healing to victims and to their families,” the secretariat said.
A Canadian pastor said The pillar last week that he hopes the visit will open the doors to a new forgiveness. He quoted a well-respected local elder who called for a response to the pope’s apology as the next step towards reconciliation.
Canadian bishops and dioceses across the country held listening sessions and formed relationships to hear the needs of Indigenous communities.
Indigenous leaders said The pillar that they would also like to see greater education and awareness in the Church about Indigenous experiences, and a full translation of the Mass into Indigenous languages.