Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Pope Francis
Pope Francis apologized for the suffering inflicted on the Indigenous peoples of Canada by members of the Catholic Church in the past.
According to Associated pressFrancis made the statement on Friday as he addressed a group of Indigenous leaders from Canada’s First Nations, who traveled from the country to the Vatican this week.
The apology stems from the church’s role in forcing more than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada to attend Christian schools from the 19th century to the 1970s, the AP reported. In doing so, the church sought to create a separation of the children from their culture, replacing their customs with Christian beliefs.
“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask God’s forgiveness and I want to tell you with all my heart: I am truly sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your forgiveness,” he said, according to Vatican Newsan outlet officially affiliated with the Catholic Church.
“It is frightening to think of determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to have: trauma unresolved that have become intergenerational trauma,” he continued.
During his address, the pope added that he felt pain and shame “for the role that a number of Catholics, especially those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that you have hurt, in the abuse you have suffered and in the disrespect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values.”
He went on to say that he hoped to visit Canada in the future.
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Last year the remains of around 750 people, many of them indigenous children, were found where a former church-run school had stood. According to New York Times, the discovery came after 215 other children were found in unmarked graves at another school in British Columbia.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations called the discovery a “crime against humanity” in comments quoted by the Times.
Natan Obed, of the national organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said he was “touched” by the pope’s apology, Washington Post reported.
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Phil Fontaine, who previously spoke about the abuse he suffered in church-run schools, said he felt a path to forgiveness was now possible.
“So many people have said in the past that they couldn’t begin the healing process that would lead to true reconciliation without hearing the pope say, ‘I’m sorry,'” Fontaine said, as noted by the To post. “We witness this moment today, and I sincerely believe that people now have an opportunity… to forgive. But forgiving is just as hard as apologizing.”