A child's red dress hangs on a stake near the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School June 6, 2021. The remains of 215 children, some as young as 3 years old, were found at the site in May in Kamloops, British Columbia. Pope Francis expressed his sorrow at the discovery of the remains at the school, which was run from 1890-1969 by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. CNS photo/Jennifer Gauthier, Reuters

Prayers, sorrow offered for Kamloops children

  • June 9, 2021

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis led hundreds of pilgrims and visitors in St. Peter’s Square in a moment of silent prayer for the Indigenous children who died in Canadian residential schools and for their grieving families.

Updated 2021-06-08:
Various updates throughout.

After praying the Angelus June 6, the Pope told the crowd, “With sorrow I am following the news from Canada about the shocking discovery of the remains of 215 children, pupils at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in the Province of British Columbia.”

“I join the Canadian bishops and the whole Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people who have been traumatized by this shocking news,” the Pope said. “This sad discovery further heightens awareness of the pain and sufferings of the past.”

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported May 30 that using ground-penetrating radar an estimated 215 bodies had been found in unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

His words were met with some criticism from Indigenous leaders and other who were looking to hear a full apology from the Pope for the role of the Catholic Church in the government-sponsored residential school system that took Indigenous children away from their families in an attempt to assimilate them into the predominant Canadian culture.

Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, who met with the Pope on June 5, told CTV News in Rome that he hoped people will see the sincerity that came from the Pope’s expression of sorrow.

“He speaks out on the things that are close to his heart,” Czerny said. “In this case it’s the Indigenous people and the many people in Canada who feel this very strongly, very deeply. But all of Canada is hurt.”

Czerny added that he believes a formal apology will come from Pope Francis, but at this time “it’s not for him to make an apology from the outside. It’s the Church, it’s the government in Canada, the people of Canada who will come to an agreement and then he will apologize.”

Czerny explained that if the Pope had made an apology after the Angelus, “that would be a spontaneous moment. But if it’s not well prepared, if we’re not ready to receive it … but more than to receive it, it’s to live it. It should change our lives. It’s not just a new label, a new word you put into a document.

“It’s painful to be waiting, but on other hand, once we pause and think ‘What does it mean?’ ... It has an enormous symbolic value, but it’s greatest value, as we say in the Church, it’s in the walking. And the walking is not something that happens instantly or automatically.”

Toronto’s archbishop, Cardinal Thomas Collins, also noted in an interview with CBC that the process of reconciliation is a long one and the Pope’s words follow up on the meeting that Pope Benedict XVI had with Canadian Indigenous leaders in 2009 to directly express his sorrow for the suffering caused by residential schools.

While a papal apology on Canadian soil — one of the “calls to action” in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report of 2015 — is a possibility, Collins said “the most more important thing is the day to day work, quietly, gently and that’s happening ever since the very clear apologies of those who ran the schools in 1991.”

While acknowledging the importance of apologies, Collins said he wasn’t sure “seeking always some big and dramatic thing is really the way forward. I think step by step is better and working with other people.”

At his Sunday Angelus appointment, Pope Francis prayed that “the political and religious authorities in Canada” would “continue to work together with determination to shed light on this sad event and humbly commit themselves to a path of healing and reconciliation.”

The discovery of the bodies, he said, shows a need to turn away from every form of colonization and instead “walk side by side in dialogue, mutual respect and recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the daughters and sons of Canada.”

“We commend to the Lord the souls of all the children who have died in the Canadian residential schools,” he said, “and we pray for the grief-stricken Indigenous families and communities of Canada.”

The Kamloops school opened in 1890 and, on behalf of the Canadian federal government, was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate until 1969. After that, the federal government took over the administration and ran the facility as a residential building for students at day schools. It was closed in 1978.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has been studying the residential-school system as part of a broader look at the treatment of the nation’s Indigenous communities, has records of 51 children dying at the Kamloops school, according to information posted on the website of the Oblates’ Lacombe province.

“At this point, there is not a clear explanation” as to why an estimated 215 bodies were discovered there, the OMI website said.

“Clearly there is a significant discrepancy between their records and what was found by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. We will continue to work with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, through the RBCM (Royal British Columbia Museum), who curate our archives, in the search of understanding this distressing discrepancy.”

The Oblates said that while the Anglican, United (Methodist) and Presbyterian churches ran some of the 130 Indian residential schools in Canada, more than 70 of them were run by Catholic orders with the Oblates administering the majority of them.

In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon Pope Francis to visit Canada and make a formal apology to Indigenous survivors, their families and communities for the abuse suffered in Catholic-run residential schools.

During a visit to Bolivia in 2015, Pope Francis issued an apology to all the Indigenous peoples of the Americas for abuses suffered.

(With files from The Catholic Register staff.)

Last modified on June 9, 2021

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