Pope arrives in Canada to apologize to Indigenous groups
Pope Francis began a busy visit to Canada on Sunday to apologize to Indigenous peoples for abuses committed by missionaries in residential schools, a key step in the Catholic Church’s efforts to reconcile with and help Indigenous communities. to heal from generations of trauma.
Francis flew from Rome to Edmonton, Alta., where his welcome party included Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary May Simon, an Inuk who is Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General.
Francis had no official events scheduled for Sunday, giving him time to rest before meeting survivors near the site of a former boarding school in Maskwacis on Monday, where he is expected to issue an apology.
Francis, in a wheelchair, was lifted out of the back of his plane before being driven in a compact white Fiat to an airport hangar where he was met by Trudeau, Simon and other dignitaries.
Drums and indigenous songs broke the silence as the welcome ceremony began. A succession of native leaders and elders greeted the pope and exchanged gifts.
On board the papal plane, Francis told reporters it was a “penitential journey” and he urged praying especially for the elderly and grandparents.
However, Indigenous groups are looking for more than just words, as they demand access to church records to learn the fate of children who never returned from residential schools.
They also want justice for the aggressors, financial reparations and the return of indigenous artifacts held by the Vatican Museums.
Grand Chief George Arcand Jr, Treaty Six Confederacy said, “This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the Church to restore relationships with Indigenous peoples around the world.
But he stressed: “It doesn’t stop there – there is a lot to do. It’s a beginning. »
Francis’ week-long trip – which will take him to Edmonton; Quebec and finally Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the Far North – follows the meetings he held in the spring at the Vatican with delegations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
These meetings ended with historic apologies for the “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.
The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse were commonplace in publicly funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s.
Some 150,000 Aboriginal children were removed from their families and forced to attend in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their home, their Aboriginal languages and cultures, and to assimilate them into the Christian society of Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada had called in 2015 for a papal apology to be made on Canadian soil, but that was only after the remains of around 200 children from the former Kamloops boarding school were discovered in 2021 in BC that the Vatican has mobilized to comply. with the request.
Raymond Frogner, chief archivist of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, which serves as an online resource for residential school research, said, “I honestly believe that if it weren’t for the discovery…and all the spotlight that were placed on the Oblates or on the Catholic Church as well, I don’t think that would have happened.
Mr. Frogner has just returned from Rome, where he spent five days at the headquarters of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 of the 139 Christian boarding schools, the most of any Catholic order.
After the graves were discovered, the Oblates finally offered “full transparency and accountability” and allowed him to enter their headquarters to search for the names of alleged sex offenders from a single school in the province of Saskatchewan. , in western Canada, he said.
There he found 1,000 original black and white photos of schools and their students, with inscriptions on the back, which he said would be of immense value to survivors and their families in the hope to find traces of their loved ones. He said the Oblates have agreed on a common project to digitize the photographs and make them available online.
The Inuit community, for its part, is asking for the Vatican’s help in extraditing a single Oblate priest, the Reverend Joannes Rivoire, who ministered to Inuit communities until his departure in the 1990s and his return to France. Canadian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998 on charges of multiple counts of sexual abuse, but it was never served.
Inuit leader Natan Obed personally asked Francis for help from the Vatican to extradite Rivoire, saying in March it was a specific thing the Vatican could do to bring healing to its many victims.
“This is part of the journey of reconciliation that we are undertaking together,” he said then.
The Reverend Cristino Bouvette, national liturgical coordinator for the papal visit, who is of part indigenous descent, said he hopes the visit heals those who “carried a wound, a cross with which they suffered, in some case for generations”.