ROME, Italy — Pope Francis has invited a delegation of indigenous people of Canada to the Vatican in December amidst controversy surrounding the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at Church-run schools for natives.
Vatican News reported that the encounter will take place this coming December just before Christmas and will include three separate bilateral meetings between the pope and the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit national organizations.
In a statement this week, the Canadian Bishops said the indigenous people will meet with the pope from December 17 to 20 “to foster meaningful encounters of dialogue and healing.”
In late May, 215 unmarked burial sites were discovered on the site of the Kamloops Indian residential school in British Columbia, which was run by the Catholic Church. The school was started in 1890 and closed in 1978.
Shortly afterward, Pope Francis called for an inquiry into the discovery, expressing his hope that bringing out the whole truth could lead to healing.
“I join the Canadian bishops and the entire Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people, traumatized by the shocking news,” the pope said in a June 6 Angelus message. “The sad discovery further raises awareness of the pains and sufferings of the past.”
“May the political and religious authorities of Canada continue to work together with determination to shed light on that sad story and to humbly commit themselves to a path of reconciliation and healing,” he said.
On June 10, the Canadian bishops released a statement expressing their commitment to “engage wholeheartedly with the past” and to “take truly meaningful active steps together with Indigenous Peoples in view of a future filled with greater respect and cooperation.”
“The recent discovery of children’s remains at a burial site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, remind us of a tragic legacy still felt today,” the bishops said.
At this time, the bishops announced that they had already been preparing a delegation of indigenous people to meet with the pope “for over two years now,” the fruit of which will be the upcoming meeting in the Vatican this December.
Later that month, on June 21, the chief of the Cowessess First Nation announced that at least 751 unmarked graves have been discovered on the grounds of the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
That same day, two historic Catholic churches on First Nations reservations in British Columbia were burned to the ground–namely, Sacred Heart Mission Church and St. Gregory Mission Church.
On June 26, two more Catholic churches on tribal lands burned down: St. Ann’s Catholic Church on the Hedley Native Reserve and the Chopaka Catholic Church on the Lower Similkameen Indian Band.
A week later, ten churches were vandalized in a single day in Alberta on Canada’s national holiday of Canada Day (or Dominion Day).
Most of those churches were defaced with red paint, apparently in protest against the Roman Catholic church’s role in the Canadian residential school system.