‘I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous Peoples’

MASKWACIS — Pope Francis says he regrets the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the cultural destruction and forced assimilation of indigenous peoples, culminating in residential schools.

Tears streamed down the faces of the elderly and survivors as Francis apologized Monday in Maskwacis, Alta., south of Edmonton, after visiting the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School.

“Faced with this deplorable evil, the church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of his children… I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against Indigenous Peoples,” Francis said through a translator at the powwow. of the community.

He received applause from many in the crowd of thousands as he said he felt sorrow, anger and shame. Others sat in closed-eyed contemplation as the pontiff called the church’s actions a “disastrous mistake incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Francis asked forgiveness, in particular, for “the ways in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, above all through their indifference, in the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time.” , which culminated in the residential school system”.

Francis spoke in Spanish, his first language, and was translated into English by a priest. Translations were also available in various indigenous languages.

He said that apologizing is the first step and there needs to be a serious investigation into what happened. Francis also called the overall effects of policies tied to residential schools “catastrophic.”

Following his apology, Francis gave Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, a retired chief of the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, a pair of loafers.

She had given the children’s moccasins to the pope when an indigenous delegation visited Rome earlier this year. They were meant to represent children who never came home from residential schools and she had told the pontiff that she hoped they would be returned to her when he came to apologize on Canadian soil.

An estimated 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where physical and sexual abuse and neglect were rampant. More than 60% of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Tears streamed down the faces of the elderly and survivors as Pope Francis apologized Monday in Maskwacis, Alta., south of Edmonton, after visiting the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School.

Eileen Clearsky of Waywayseecappo First Nation in Manitoba held up photos of her mother and father during the apology. She said that she wanted to honor her parents, who were survivors, and find healing for her family.

“It’s been a long journey to figure out who we are because of the legacy that residential school has left us to take on,” Clearsky said.

Chief Wilton Littlechild presented Francis with a headdress. The former Truth and Reconciliation Commission member attended residential schools for 14 years as a child in Alberta.

Littlechild said he hopes the pope’s visit will promote a path of justice, healing, reconciliation and hope.

“We sincerely hope that our meeting this morning and the words you share with us reflect true healing and true hope for generations to come,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Francis held his face as he was wheeled into a cemetery in Maskwacis. Organizers said the remains of residential school students are likely among the graves.

The Ermineskin School was one of the largest residential schools in the country. Five tipis were installed at the site of the Pope’s visit, four representing the nations of the earth and the fifth as a symbol of the entrance to the old school.

Organizers said the holy fires were also burning in communities across the country in solidarity.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary May Simon, as well as other political and indigenous leaders, attended the event.

Francis was scheduled to speak later Monday with indigenous people and members of the parish at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton.

Later in the week, the pope is scheduled to hold a large open-air mass at the city’s soccer stadium and take part in a pilgrimage to nearby Lac Ste. Anne, before traveling to Quebec City and Iqaluit.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 25, 2022.

— With Kelly Geraldine Malone files in Winnipeg

Leave a Comment