Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.
Pope Francis has delivered a formal apology for the grave harm caused by Canada’s harrowing residential school system.
In a livestreamed audience with more than 190 Indigenous survivors, elders, knowledge keepers, youth and community leaders on Friday, he said he was “deeply grieved” by stories of abuse, hardship and discrimination he heard throughout the week.
“All this made me feel two things very strongly — indignation and shame,” he said before a packed room at the Vatican. “Indignation, because it is not right to accept evil, and even worse to grow accustomed to evil as if it were an inevitable part of the historical process.
“All these things are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church — I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry.”
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He said he joined his “brothers”— in the room — six members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops — in asking for the forgiveness of Indigenous peoples as well.
Those in the meeting, many dressed in formal regalia, listened and watched intently as the Holy Father lauded the richness of Indigenous culture, spirituality and languages. He praised their sense of community, deep familial roots and great care of the land.
Dr Wilton Littlechild, who has advocated for years 4 the Catholic Church to apologize; was a TRC Commissioner, he’s a survivor of residential schools and now uses a walker-it’s his 78th bday today. He danced in St Peters Square celebrating @Pontifex apology which is momentous pic.twitter.com/8al4YDELAU
— Brandi Morin (@Songstress28) April 1, 2022
He noted that “ideological colonization” remains rampant in the world today, driven by “greed and thirst for profit” with little concern for people, their history, traditions and home.
The Pope committed to coming to Canada to visit Indigenous families on their homeland. He did not indicate whether he would apologize again on Canadian soil, as has been requested by residential school survivors. Instead, he said he looked forward to being able to “better express to you my closeness.”
The meeting included prayers in several Indigenous languages, songs, drumming and dance. The Pope was gifted with regalia and at the end of the meeting said, “bye-bye,” drawing laughter from the crowd.
Outside St. Peter’s Square, First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegates had mixed reactions to the apology — considered by some as a surprise. Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine said that he took the pope’s words as a sign of “good faith,” but that he still expects the Holy Father to apologize on Turtle Island to all their families.
Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron said she was “deeply moved,” by the Pope’s words, and as she shared the English translation of his speech with Métis Elder Angie Crerar, a survivor, Crerar dissolved into tears.
“I know how important those words are going to be to our survivors back at home, which is why we will continue to advocate for Pope Francis to share those words, those sentiments — what’s he’s learned from us back on our homes,” Caron said.
Indigenous peoples joined Italians and tourists alike in a historic round dance around the Vatican Obelisk in St. Peter’s Square, and sang at the footsteps of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“In the moment, I couldn’t help but thinking how individuals can change the world, how individuals can see that there is justice and there is a path for justice,” said Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.