Pope Francis crisscrossed Canada this week delivering long overdue apologies to the country’s Indigenous groups for the decades of abuses and cultural destruction they suffered at Catholic Church-run residential schools.
The pontiff’s penitential pilgrimage – Alberta to Quebec and stopping in far-north Nunavut before flying back to Rome on Saturday — stirred a mix of emotions for school survivors. Some welcomed the Holy Father’s apology for the “evil” of church personnel and “catastrophic effect” of the school system. Still others say far more needs to be done to correct past wrongs and pursue justice.
One First Nations chief even gifted Francis with a headdress, briefly placing the revered regalia on the pope’s head, eliciting cheers from a crowd that had just heard him repent at the site of a former residential school. But some Indigenous peoples found the gesture incongruous with the transgressions Francis said he was sorry for in their homeland.
More than 150,000 Native children in Canada were forced to attend government-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s. They were isolated from their homes and culture with the aim of Christianizing and assimilating them into mainstream society, which previous Canadian governments considered superior. Abuse was rampant.
This week, the Canadian government made clear the pontiff’s apology did not go far enough and the First Nations chairman of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on Francis to take responsibility for the full role of the church in the school system.
Just before the pope celebrated Mass on Thursday, protesters unfurled a banner at the alter demanding that the papal decrees underpinning the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” be rescinded. The doctrine and other theories were used to legitimize the colonial-era seizure of Native lands and form the basis of some property law today.
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