ROME, Italy — Pope Francis held his first meeting with the indigenous peoples of Canada on Monday, in which he repeatedly apologized for the sins and evil committed by Christians against the native population.
Reiterating the nature of his visit as “a penitential pilgrimage,” the pontiff said he traveled to Canada “to tell you in person of my sorrow, to implore God’s forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, to express my closeness and to pray with you and for you.”
Referring back to meetings with representatives of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in the Vatican earlier this year, Francis said he feels a “deep sense of pain and remorse” when thinking back on “the tragic situations that so many of you, your families and your communities have known; of what you shared with me about the suffering you endured in the residential schools.”
“To remember the devastating experiences that took place in the residential schools hurts, angers, causes pain, and yet it is necessary,” he asserted.
“It is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation and enfranchisement, which also included the residential school system, were devastating for the people of these lands,” the pope declared.
The policies of assimilation “ended up systematically marginalizing the indigenous peoples” and through the system of residential schools “your languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed,” he said.
“I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry,” he stated. “For the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples.”
“I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools,” he added.
The “overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic,” he asserted. “What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children,” Francis said. “I myself wish to reaffirm this, with shame and unambiguously. I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples.”
The pope went on to express his hope that Christians and civil society in this land can grow in their ability to accept and respect the identity and the experience of the indigenous peoples.
“It is my hope that concrete ways can be found to make those peoples better known and esteemed, so that all may learn to walk together,” he said.
“Know that I am aware of the sufferings and traumas, the difficulties and challenges, experienced by the indigenous peoples in every region of this country,” he said. “The words that I speak throughout this penitential journey are meant for every native community and person. I embrace all of you with affection.”
Here, today, “I am with you to recall the past, to grieve with you, to bow our heads together in silence and to pray before the graves. Let us allow these moments of silence to help us interiorize our pain,” he said.
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