The Pope began “a journey of penance” to apologize in Canada

EDMONTON, Canada.– Pope Francis landed in Canada yesterday to begin a week-long trip that will focus on his apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church for abuses suffered by indigenous children. in residential schools, mostly run by the Church.

This is a journey of penance. Let’s say that’s his spirit,” the Holy Father told reporters after his flight took off from Rome. On the plane he insisted to journalists about the penitential nature of his visit, dedicated mainly to the native Amerindian populations, who today represent 5% of the inhabitants of Canada and who are identified in three groups: First Nations, Metis and Inuit.

The latter were subjected for decades to a policy of forced assimilation, fundamentally through a system of pensions for children, subsidized by the State, but administered mostly by the Church. Between 1881 and 1996, more than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and placed in boarding schools. Many of them were physically and sexually abused by principals and teachers, and as many as 6,000 died of disease, malnutrition or neglect, in a system the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”

Francisco, during the reception in CanadaCole Burston – GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA

the papal plane landed in edmontonin the western province of Alberta, where he will visit a former boarding school and meet with indigenous people tomorrow. He will also visit Quebec City and Iqaluit, the capital of the Nunavut Territory. The day after tomorrow he will celebrate mass at an Edmonton stadium, where some 65,000 people are expected, before heading to Lake Sainte-Anne, the site of a major annual pilgrimage, where he will meet former students from the residential school, before returning to Rome. .

The Pope sent a message on Twitter before embarking on the trip: “I come among you to meet with the indigenous peoples. I hope that, with the grace of God, my penitential pilgrimage can contribute to the path of reconciliation already begun. Please join me in prayer.”

The papal plane taxied with Canadian and Vatican flags fluttering outside the cabin windows. after landing with the help of an elevatorThe Supreme Pontiff got into a white Fiat 500X, which left him in the hangar. He then moved around in a wheelchair. The Governor General Mary Simon, representing Canada’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth, was the first to greet the Pope. She was followed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Francis sat between the two Canadian officials for a brief performance by four drummers and native chants before several indigenous leaders, many wearing elaborate headdresses, greeted him and exchanged gifts.

The Pope was helped at the reception ceremony by Justin Trudeau
The Pope was helped at the reception ceremony by Justin TrudeauCole Burston – GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA

“Today I asked the Pope to walk with us”said Grand Chief George Arcand of the Treaty Six Confederation of First Nations. “It was humbling to talk to the Holiness about him.” The week before, Arcand had said the trip was “an important part of the healing journey” but that “much remains to be done.”

The Holy Father spoke for a few minutes privately with Trudeau and other officials before heading to St. Joseph’s Seminary, where he retired to rest until tomorrow.

Francis, 85, canceled a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan in early July because of a knee problem that has recently forced him to use a wheelchair and a cane.

With more than ten hours of flight, It is the longest trip undertaken by the Pope since 2019.

Although Canadian leaders are aware of the high number of children who have died in boarding schools since 1907, the issue was brought to the fore with the discovery last year of alleged unmarked graves in or near former boarding schools. In response to pressure stemming from those discoveries, the pope apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in boarding schools earlier this year, during a visit by indigenous delegates to the Vatican.

The Pope kisses the hand of a survivor
The Pope kisses the hand of a survivorNathan Denette – The Canadian Press

Now he is preparing to apologize on Canadian soil. But survivors and indigenous leaders have said they want more.

Many have called for financial compensation, the return of indigenous objects, the publication of school records, support for the extradition of those accused of abuse, and the annulment of a fifteenth-century doctrine that justifies the colonial dispossession of indigenous peoples in form of papal bull or edict.

The Pope could make some symbolic gestures, such as the return of indigenous art objects kept in the Vatican for decades.

Yesterday morning, the city of Edmonton, towards which numerous survivors of the pensioners converged, was preparing to receive Francis.

“I would like a lot of people to come” so that “they realize that nothing is made up,” said Charlotte Roan, 44, a resident of this poor community.

Others have a sour look on this visit. “For me, it comes too late because many people have suffered,” laments Linda McGilvery, a 68-year-old resident of the outskirts of Saint-Paul (200 km east of Edmonton), who spent eight years of her childhood in a boarding school. .

Francis is the second pope to visit Canada, after John Paul II.

AFP and Reuters agencies

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