The Pope lands in Canada to apologize to indigenous groups

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) – Pope Francis began a historic visit to Canada Sunday to apologize to indigenous peoples for abuses by missionaries at residential schools, a key step in the Catholic Church’s efforts to reconcile with native communities and help them heal from generations of people. trauma

Francis flew from Rome to Edmonton, Alberta, where his welcoming party included Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, an Inuk who is Canada’s first indigenous governor general. Francis had no official events scheduled Sunday, giving him time to rest before his meeting Monday with survivors near the site of a former residential school in Maskwacis, where he is expected to apologize.

Francis, in a wheelchair, exited the back of his plane with the help of an ambulift before being driven in a compact white Fiat to an airport hangar where he was greeted by Trudeau, Simon and other dignitaries.

Indigenous drums and chants broke the silence as the welcoming ceremony began. A succession of indigenous leaders and elders greeted the pope and exchanged gifts.

After the welcome at the airport, Francis was scheduled to travel by motorcade to the St. Joseph of Edmonton, where he will be staying.

On board the papal plane, Francis told reporters it was a “penitential journey” and urged prayers, in particular, for the elderly and grandparents.

However, indigenous groups are looking for more than just words, as they demand access to church archives to learn the fate of children who never returned home from residential centres. They also want justice for abusers, financial reparations and the return of indigenous artifacts held by the Vatican Museums.

“Right now, many of our people are skeptical and hurt,” Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. said. of the Confederation of First Nations of the Six Nations Treaty. However, he expressed hope that with the papal apology, “We could begin our journey of healing … and change the way things have been for our people for many, many years.”

Assembly of First Nations national chief RoseAnne Archibald, one of the country’s most prominent indigenous leaders, said several members of her family attended residential schools, including a sister who died in Ontario. He described it as “an institution of assimilation and genocide”.

During her fight in Alberta, “I was so overcome with emotion and there were different moments on the plane where I really had to keep myself from bursting into deep sobs,” she said. “I realized that I am a survivor of intergenerational trauma and that there are so many people like me.”

Francis’ week-long trip β€” which will take him to Edmonton; Quebec City and finally Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north, follow meetings he held in the spring at the Vatican with First Nations, Metis and Inuit delegations. Those meetings culminated in a historic apology on April 1 for “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse were rampant at state-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century until the 1970s. About 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced into attendance in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their native homes, languages ​​and cultures and assimilate them into Canada’s Christian society.

Then-prime minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology for the residential schools in 2008. As part of a court settlement involving the government, churches and approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid reparations totaling thousands of millions of dollars transferred to indigenous communities. The Catholic Church of Canada says its dioceses and religious orders have contributed more than $50 million in cash and in-kind contributions, and expects to add another $30 million over the next five years.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 had called for a papal apology to be delivered on Canadian soil, but that was only after the discovery in 2021 of the possible remains of about 200 children at the former residential school in Kamloops in British Columbia that the Vatican mobilized to comply with the request.

“I honestly think that if it hadn’t been for the discovery … and all the focus that was put on the Oblates or the Catholic Church as well, I don’t think any of this would have happened,” Raymond Frogner said. chief archivist of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

Frogner just returned from Rome where he spent five days at the headquarters of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, which ran 48 of the 139 Christian-run residential schools, the most of any Catholic order. After the graves were discovered, the Oblates eventually offered “full transparency and accountability” and allowed him into their headquarters to investigate the names of alleged sex abusers at a single school in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan, he said.

The Inuit community, meanwhile, is seeking the Vatican’s help in extraditing a single Oblate priest, Reverend Joannes Rivoire, who ministered to Inuit communities until he left in the 1990s and returned to France. Canadian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998 on multiple counts of sexual abuse, but it has never been served.

Inuit leader Natan Obed personally asked Francis for the Vatican’s help in extraditing Rivoire, telling The Associated Press in March that it was one specific thing the Vatican could do to heal its many victims.

Asked about the request, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said last week that he had no information on the case.

At a news conference Saturday in Edmonton, organizers said they will do everything they can to allow school survivors to attend papal events, especially for the Maskwacis apology and Tuesday’s meeting in Lac Ste. Anne, long a popular place of pilgrimage for indigenous Catholics.

Both are located in rural areas and the organizers are arranging shuttle transport from various parks and parks. They noted that many survivors are now elderly and frail and may need transportation by accessible vehicles, diabetic-friendly snacks and other services.

Monsignor Cristino Bouvette, national liturgical coordinator of the papal visit, who is partly of indigenous heritage, has said that he hopes the visit will be healing for those who “have carried a wound, a cross with which they have suffered, in some cases for generations. .”

Bouvette, a priest in the Diocese of Calgary, said papal liturgical events will have strong indigenous representation, including prominent roles for indigenous clergy and the use of native languages, music and motifs in liturgical vestments.

Bouvette said she is doing this work in honor of her “kokum,” the Cree word for grandmother, who spent 12 years at a residential school in Edmonton. “He probably never could have imagined so many years later that his grandson would be involved in this work.”


Gillies reported from Toronto.


The Associated Press’ religious coverage is supported through the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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