Rosanne Casimir, chief of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc, speaks as Assembly of First Nations delegates encounter the media outside St. Peter's Square after a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican March 31, 2022. The pope is holding three meetings to listen to the experiences of representatives of Canada's Indigenous communities, experiences that include being sent as children to residential schools operated by Catholic dioceses and religious orders. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis apologizes for Church role in residential schools, plans for visit to Canada

By 
  • April 1, 2022

The words I’m sorry from the Pope were more than what either Canadian bishops or Indigenous delegations expected from this week-long encounter with Pope Francis.

“I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say with all my heart that I am sorry,” Pope Francis told all three delegations — Inuit, Metis and the Assembly of First Nations — gathered for a papal audience today.

The Pope named the harm done by residential schools and colonization as fundamentally a violation of the Gospel.

“Clearly, the content of the faith cannot be transmitted in a way contrary to the faith itself,” he said. “Jesus taught us to welcome, love, serve and not judge. It is a frightening thing when, precisely in the name of the faith, counter-witness is rendered to the Gospel.”

All week long both Indigenous delegates and bishops have been telling reporters that they came here asking for an apology in Canada on Indigenous land to fulfil Call to Action #58. With a papal trip to Canada already announced but not yet planned, that’s what they expected.

Apparently moved by three separate encounters with Indigenous people — including yesterday’s two-hour meeting with the Assembly of First Nations delegation, an hour over its scheduled time — and by the stories of survivors, Pope Francis made the apology his immediate response. There is no reason to believe that today’s apology precludes an apology on Indigenous land.

The Pope said he had been personally enriched by what he had heard from the delegations and the testimony of survivors.

Francis gave an indication of where and when he might visit, praising Indigenous devotion to St. Anne and hoping to join this year in the traditional July pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne, 73 kilometres west of Edmonton, or 15 hours on foot.

The lake has been sacred to the Cree and the Naskota Sioux for hundreds of years. The Sioux called it Wakamne, or God’s Lake. For the Cree it is Manitou Sakhahigan, the Lake of the Spirit. Oblate Fathers incorporated the lake into the Christian pilgrimage tradition beginning in 1889.

St. Anne’s feast day is July 26 and on that day the pilgrimage is at its height.

Pope Francis clearly signalled that reconciliation is now the program and the goal of the Canadian Catholic Church. In issuing his apology he said, “I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”

“The Church stands with you and wants to journey with you,” Francis said.

He also honoured Indigenous Christian spirituality, particularly devotion to Jesus’ grandmother, St. Anne.

“I think with joy, for example, of the great veneration that many of you have for St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus,” he said. “Nowadays, we need to re-establish the covenant between grandparents and grandchildren, between the elderly and the young, for this is a fundamental prerequisite for the growth of unity in our human family.”

Last modified on April 4, 2022

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