Pope Francis has apologized for the “evil” of Canada’s church-run residential schools, asking survivors of the system for forgiveness.
The Pope is on a tour of Canada on a “pilgrimage of penance.”
His widely anticipated apology came during a visit to the community of Maskwacis, Alberta, marking the first formal event of his one-week tour.
Pope Francis apologized for the “disastrous error” and “evil” of the church schools, which abused tens of thousands of children.
“I am sorry. I ask for forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools,” Francis said.
In the speech, he told nearly 2,000 survivors of the residential school system of his “indignation” and “shame” over the treatment of Indigenous children.
The Pope also lamented the “colonizing mentality” behind the system, and how it had “catastrophic effects” on generations of Indigenous people.
“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous people,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon attended the event at the Powwow Arbour, a space for First Nations community gatherings and celebrations. So too was the Assembly of First Nations national Chief RoseAnne Archibald, as well as federal lawmakers.
The event at Maskwacis is at the location of the site of a former Ermineskin residential school, which was one of the largest of its kind in the country, running from 1895 to 1975.
Over more than a century, at least 150,000 Indigenous children were taken away from their families and forced to attend schools mostly run by the Catholic Church. While both Protestant and Anglican churches ran schools, the majority were operated by the Catholic Church. But the Vatican had for years resisted calls for an apology by the Pope.
Survivors have testified about physical abuse as well as punishment for speaking in their languages.
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