Pope hopes Canada trip will help heal evil done to indigenous people

By Orowo Victoria Ojieh with agency report

Pope Francis is optimistic that his upcoming trip to Canada will be a “pilgrimage of penance” that he hopes can help heal the wrongs done to indigenous people by Roman Catholic priests and nuns who ran abusive residential schools.

The July 24-30, 2022 trip will include at least five encounters with native people as Francis is set to make good on a promise to apologise to victims on their home territory for the Church’s role in the state-sanctioned schools, which sought to erase indigenous cultures.

“Unfortunately in Canada many Christians, including some members of religious orders, contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation that in the past gravely damaged native populations in various ways,” the Pope said at his weekly address to people in St. Peter’s Square.

About 150,000 children were taken from their homes. Some were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.

Thousands are believed to have died while attending the residential schools, which operated between 1831 and 1996. The schools were run by Christian denominations on behalf of the government, most by the Catholic Church.

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The discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada in recent years have prompted renewed calls for accountability and an apology from the Catholic Church in particular.

Last year, the remains of 215 children were found at the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops in the western Canadian province of British Columbia. The school closed in 1978.

The schools were at the centre of discussions between the pope and indigenous people who visited the Vatican in March and April. The meeting resulted in a long-sought apology from the Pope, but Indigenous leaders also pushed for the pope to visit their homeland.

Recalling the meetings, Francis said on Sunday he had expressed his pain and solidarity over the evil that they endured.

“I am about to make a pilgrimage of penance, which i hope that with the grace of God can contribute to the path of healing and reconciliation that already has been started,” he said.

The 85-year-old pontiff will visit Edmonton, Maskwacis, Lac Ste Anne, Quebec, and Iqaluit in Canada’s Arctic territory. He is scheduled to deliver nine homilies and addresses and say two masses.

Francis was elected pope nearly two decades after the last schools closed.

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