The residential school survivors wearing ribbon skirts and an elderly man holding a pen were part of an indigenous delegation that gathered Friday for a private audience with Pope Francis in Quebec City on the final day of his tour of Canada.
In an opening address to the meeting, the pontiff told the indigenous delegation that he had come to Canada in a “spirit of penance” to apologize for wrongs inflicted on them by “not just a few Catholics.”
“I have come as a pilgrim, despite my physical limitations, to take further steps forward with you and for you,” he told the group seated across from him.
“I am doing this to advance the search for truth, to continue healing and reconciliation processes, and to continue to sow seeds of hope for future generations, indigenous and non-indigenous alike. who want to live together, in harmony, as brothers and sisters”.
The 25-person indigenous delegation included survivors and First Nations representatives from across eastern Canada, some of whom could be seen presenting gifts to the pope as the private audience began.
Francis said that he had been enriched by the stories of the indigenous people he met in Canada.
“I can truly say that while I came to be with you, it was your life and experiences, the indigenous realities of these lands, that touched me, stayed with me, and will always be a part of me,” he said. .
He cited the example of three women, including Kateri Tekakwitha, the first indigenous saint, as inspiration to follow the path of reconciliation.
Early Friday, Francis began his day with a private meeting with members of his religious order, the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits.
Pope Francis is set to end his six-day tour of Canada that he has called a pilgrimage of penance in Iqaluit, where he will engage in private meetings with residential school survivors.
There will also be an outdoor meeting with young and old before he flies back to the Vatican.
During the tour, including stops in Alberta, the pontiff apologized for the role Roman Catholic institutions played in the residential school system.
Some have said that his apology did not go far enough because he did not make it clear that the Catholic Church, and not just a few bad people, was responsible for the abuses at residential schools.
Critics have also said that he should have rescinded the 15th-century Doctrine of Discovery, which justified the colonization of North America.
During an evening prayer service on Thursday, Francis acknowledged the sexual abuse inflicted on “minor and vulnerable people” but did not specifically say that the sexual abuse occurred in residential schools.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 29, 2022.
If you are a former survivor of a struggling residential school, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional resources and mental health support for indigenous peoples are available here.