Indigenous Canadians Meet Pope in Hope of Apology | Region
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Canada’s indigenous leaders and survivors of the country’s notorious residential schools are meeting with Pope Francis beginning Monday in hopes of securing a papal apology for abuses committed against them by Catholic priests and school workers.
The meetings, postponed from December due to the pandemic, are part of efforts by the Canadian church and government to respond to Indigenous demands for justice and reparations — longstanding demands that have gained traction in the past year. after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves outside some of the schools.
In interviews with The Associated Press upon their arrival in Rome on Sunday, the indigenous leaders expressed hope that Francis would indeed apologize, though they said their main goal this week was to tell the pope the stories of their people and the abuses they suffered, and for Francis to listen.
“Most of our meeting is going to be raising the voices of our survivors,” said Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council, who received a traditional handmade beaded jacket to wear Monday morning for the first hearing as well as a pair of beaded red moccasins to offer to the pope.
The moccasins were presented “as a sign of the willingness of the mixed-race people to forgive if there is meaningful action by the church,” the group explained in a memo. The red dye “represents that even though Pope Francis does not wear the traditional red papal shoes, he walks with the legacy of those who came before him, the good, the great and the terrible.
Francis has set aside several hours this week to meet with First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegations privately, with a mental health counselor in the room for each session. The delegates then meet as a group on Friday for a more formal audience, with Francis delivering a speech.
More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes and cultures, to Christianize them and assimilate them into mainstream society, which previous governments considered superior.
The Canadian government has admitted physical and sexual abuse is rampant, with students beaten for speaking their native language. This legacy of abuse and isolation has been cited by Indigenous leaders as a root cause of the epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction on reservations.
Nearly three quarters of the 130 boarding schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations.
Last May, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation announced the discovery of some 215 burial sites near Kamloops, British Columbia, found using ground-penetrating radar. It was the largest residential school in Canada, and the discovery of the graves was the first of many similar grim sites across the country.
Even before the sites were uncovered, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada specifically called for a papal apology to be issued on Canadian soil for the church’s role in “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexuality of First Nations, Inuit and Métis. children in Catholic boarding schools.
Francis has pledged to visit Canada, although no visit date has been announced.
“Above all, reconciliation requires action. And we still need very specific actions from the Catholic Church,” said Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who leads the Inuit delegation. He cited the reparations the Canadian church has been ordered to pay, as well as his drive to uncover the truth about the extent of abuse in schools.
“It goes beyond just opening the archives, it also goes in the direction of a general willingness to use the resources of the church to help in any way possible,” he told AP. .
As part of the settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches and the approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid reparations amounting to billions of dollars transferred to Indigenous communities.
The Catholic Church, for its part, contributed more than $50 million and now plans to add another $30 million over the next five years.
The Argentine pope is no stranger to apologizing for his own mistakes and what he himself called the “crimes” of the institutional Catholic Church.
During a visit to Bolivia in 2015, he apologized for the sins, crimes and delicts committed by the Church against indigenous peoples during the conquest of the Americas during colonial times. In Dublin, Ireland, in 2018, he issued a general apology to Irish children and women who have been sexually and physically abused over generations by church officials.
That same year, he met privately with three Chilean survivors of sexual abuse whom he had discredited by supporting a bishop whom they accused of covering up sexual abuse. In a series of meetings over the course of a week that echo those scheduled for Canadian delegates, Francis listened and apologized.
Phil Fontaine was National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in 2009 when he led an Indigenous delegation to meet with Pope Bendict XVI. At the time, Benedict XVI only expressed his “sadness at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of certain members of the church”. But he didn’t apologize.
Standing outside St. Peter’s Square, Fontaine said a full papal apology “would be a tremendous boost to the efforts of thousands of survivors who are still seeking healing. They are certainly eager to see true reconciliation take place. happen, but reconciliation will not be achieved without the truth.