Indigenous people are expressing a mix of hope and skepticism after Pope Francis’ mass in the Quebec City area, with some saying they want to hear the concrete steps that will follow the pontiff’s historic apology for residential schools.
Francis organized a reconciliation-themed Mass on Thursday before a congregation made up largely of residential school survivors and other indigenous people, a day after offering another apology and a plea for forgiveness for the role played by Catholic institutions in the schools.
During his homily, the pontiff used two biblical stories, that of Adam and Eve and that of two disciples persecuted for failure after Jesus’ death, to illustrate the “difficult and demanding path of healing and reconciliation” of the church.
“Facing the scandal of evil and the wounded body of Christ in the flesh of our indigenous brothers and sisters, we too have experienced deep consternation; we too feel the weight of failure,” Francis said at the Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica, east of Quebec City. He urged his followers not to run away or hide from the consequences of failure, but to turn to Jesus.
Chief Réal McKenzie of the Matimekush-Lac John Innu Nation said he was hopeful the pope’s visit and message would bring healing to some, but acknowledged it has divided communities. “Some will accept it,” but others won’t, McKenzie said. “Some are going to die with it.”
Among those in attendance were the Muñoz family, who are of Mohawk descent and who traveled from California to see Francis.
Yolanda Muñoz, whose grandfather attended a residential school in Ontario, said the next step should include bringing in indigenous remains so they can be buried “here on the land they were taken on.”
“We are not relics,” he said. “We need to bring the bones of our children, the bones of our ancestors, they need to come home.”
Jackie Gull-Barney, of the Waswanipi Cree First Nation in northern Quebec, said before the service that she hoped to find healing and peace with the pope’s visit.
Gull-Barney said her family was “split down the middle” by residential schools, after she and two of her brothers were sent to English schools in Ontario, and two younger brothers learned French in schools in Quebec.
He was happy with the pope’s apology to the indigenous people in Maskwacis, Alta., which he considered “very humble and very sincere.” But like Muñoz, she is interested in knowing what concrete steps will be taken.
“What will happen after the apology?” she said. “Are there going to be programs and places that we can go for assistance and help moving forward?”
Hundreds gathered outside the Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré shrine to hear Pope Francis lead the second Mass of his Canadian tour, which he called a pilgrimage of penance.
Before the mass, two people raised their fists in the air while briefly holding up a large banner reading “Rescind Doctrine” at the front of the church. The banner referenced the Doctrine of Discovery, which stems from a series of edicts, known as papal bulls, dating back to the 15th century.
Countries, including Canada, used the doctrine to justify colonizing land considered uninhabited that was in fact home to indigenous peoples.
Organizers said many of the speakers delivering readings at Thursday’s service were indigenous and that the Pope’s chasuble, the outermost garment worn by Roman Catholic priests during Mass, was specially designed by a local Huron-Wendat artist.
Many in the pews wore orange to represent the Every Child Matters movement, remembering the children lost in residential schools and the survivors. Some attendees wore floral scarves, and elderly people in wheelchairs sat in a section to the left near the stage.
The site is one of the oldest and most popular pilgrimage sites in North America, attracting more than a million visitors annually. Organizers had said more than 16,000 people were expected in and out, though attendance at previous Pope events in Alberta fell short of expectations.
Louis Joe Bernard, a Mi’kmaq who came from Nova Scotia, said the pope’s visit aroused emotions, but he felt it was good that he came to Canada.
“I think we need God in our lives and with the Pope here, realizing, acknowledging the harm that was done to Aboriginal people, I think it’s good,” Bernard said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that the pope’s trip to Canada was a “step toward healing” but acknowledged that some indigenous leaders want Francis to go further.
“The message from His Holiness, the message from the church that this is the beginning of a process is encouraging, it has been helpful to many in their healing, but there is much work to be done,” Trudeau told reporters outside the church. .
Quebec Premier François Legault told reporters that many of Quebec’s values come from the Catholic Church, including a sense of mutual aid.
But he also said he intended to use his private meeting with the pope on Friday to ask him to hand over to indigenous communities any documents on residential schools, which he described as a dark period in Quebec and Canadian history.
Later Thursday, the pope will attend vespers, an evening prayer service, with church officials at Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral-Basilica.
Pope Francis will leave Quebec City on Friday and make a short stop in Iqaluit before heading back to Vatican City.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their families who are suffering from trauma invoked by the memory of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 28, 2022.