Pope Francis has made a formal apology to the Indigenous communities of Canada for the Church’s role in abuses at residential schools. His speech, which came on the final day of the Canadian Aboriginal delegation’s trip to Rome, expressed the pontiff’s “anger” and “shame” before asking forgiveness from the Aboriginal people and from God. He went on to voice his desire to be in Canada for this year’s feast of St. Anne, patron saint of Canada.
The hour-long address capped off a week of meetings between the Vatican and Canada’s Aboriginal delegates, who represented the Inuit, First Nations and Métis peoples. In the preceding days, each of these representatives had an opportunity to meet with Pope Francis privately.
The pope said of their meetings:
“In recent days I have listened carefully to your testimonies,” said Pope Francis at the beginning of his speech. He explained that he had “taken them” with him “in reflection and prayer” in preparation for this speech.
Pope Francis went on to issue a formal apology to the delegates and their communities. He specifically cited “the role that many Catholics, especially those with educational responsibilities, have played in all that has hurt you, in the abuse and disrespect of your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values.”
He continued, “For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask God’s forgiveness.” Pope Francis called the abuses “counter-testimony to the Gospel.”
The apology issued by the pope joins his voice with the Canadian Catholic Bishop’s Conference, who officially apologized on September 24, 2021. The conference’s president, Bishop Raymond Poisson, was also in attendance on the occasion. In his time at the podium, he recalled the life and works of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first indigenous person to be named a Catholic saint.
Following the Bishop’s remarks, a First Nations spiritual advisor offered a prayer, invoking the “Great Spirit” and asking him to help them find “peace to be together.” After the prayer, two Inuit singers performed the Our Father, in Inuktikut.
In interviews with imedia, Natan Abed, leader of the Inuit delegation, said it was a “moving week” and praised Pope Francis’ “empathy towards the natives of Canada.”
President of the Métis deligation, Cassidy Caron, called the pope’s address, “historic” and was delighted by the prospect of a pontifical visit to Canada. She said: “If he was touched by thirty people, what will it be like when he comes to the country!”
Feast of St. Anne
Pope Francis went on to pay tribute to the “good believers” of Canada who have “enriched the history” of their country with the Gospel. He praised the national veneration of St. Anne, “the grandmother of Jesus,” and Canadian patron. The pope then expressed his wish to visit Canada for St. Anne’s feast day “this year,” on July 26.
“I would like to tell you that the Church is on your side and wants to continue to walk with you,” he said.
The audience concluded with presentations of three traditional musical performances by Aboriginal artists. Pope Francis then blessed his hosts in English.