Title: Pope Francis condemns forced assimilation of Canada’s residential schools as ‘incompatible with the Gospel’
In a historic apology, Pope Francis condemned Canada’s residential school system as “a deplorable evil” and asked forgiveness of the Indigenous Peoples for Christians participation in it.“I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry,” the pope told the more than 2,000 Indigenous leaders and survivors that had come from all over the country, representing the 1.7 million members of Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
Speaking in Spanish, at Maskwacis, 60 miles from Edmonton near the site of Ermineskin—one of Canada’s largest residential schools—Pope Francis gave a historic, long awaited, unequivocal apology to these Indigenous Peoples. He condemned the entire system of “cultural destruction” and “forced assimilation” through the residential schools as “a deplorable evil” and “a disastrous error” that is “incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry.”
As he spoke, the Indigenous chiefs, survivors of the residential schools, were all gathered in a circle, under a covered setting, in the city’s Pow-Wow Park. Every year indigenous people gather here to dance, sing and celebrate their culture, but today they gathered for a most solemn moment that revived deep emotions, painful sorrowful memories.
But not all indigenous people want an apology. Some are deeply angry at the Catholic Church, which they hold partly responsible for cultural genocide. As we drove in from the airport yesterday, I saw protestors on a bridge with a banner that said, “No to an apology.” An RCMP officer (who did not want to be identified) told me, “Emotions are running very high, we are on maximum alert.” But the protests were few.
Many told me today’s gathering revived the saddest of all memories—those of “the missing children” who never returned home because they died at the schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that at least 15 had died here at the Ermineskin school, the only residential school Francis will visit during his stay here.
Francis, in his talk, put his hand into this extremely painful, open wound, by recalling that when their delegations visited him in the Vatican last March, they gave him “two pairs of moccasins as a sign of the suffering endured by indigenous children, particularly those who, unfortunately, never came back from the residential schools.” They asked him “to return the moccasins” when he came to Canada” and he did so when he finished speaking, a gesture that drew warm applause from the crowd.