On Friday, April 1, Pope Francis met with all three indigenous delegations and had this to say: “For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”
Over the last few days, Pope Francis has been meeting with delegations from Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, hearing their stories about life in the residential school system.
He told those present that he had listened to their stories. By doing this, the Pope said, he was able to enter into and be deeply grieved by the stories of the suffering, hardship, discrimination, and various forms of abuse that some of them experienced, particularly in the residential schools.
“It is chilling to think of determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas,” he said.
Pope Francis emphasized that what he had heard had made him feel both indignation and shame.
“Without real indignation, without historical memory, and without a commitment to learning from past mistakes, problems remain unresolved and keep coming back. We can see this these days in the case of war. The memory of the past must never be sacrificed at the altar of alleged progress,” he said.
The Pope added that he felt shame “For the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture, and even your spiritual values.”
During the audience, the three delegations shared with Pope Francis expressions of their own cultures including those through the mediums of song and dance.
Pope Francis said he had been enriched by their words and their testimonies. He also said he would “Be happy to benefit again from meeting them when he visits their native lands, where your families live.”
In a live-streamed audience with more than 190 Indigenous survivors, elders, knowledge keepers, youth, and leaders, the Pope said he was “deeply grieved” by the stories of abuse.
The apology closed a historic week-long delegation of Indigenous Peoples from Canada to Rome.
“Our recent history is marked with the stigma of mistakes and failures to love our neighbour, in particular towards members of those nations who have been present in Canada for centuries,” President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Bishop Raymond Poisson said during the meeting. “Our desire for reconciliation is all the greater. Our presence here is a testimony to our commitment to one another and to each other.”
The Pope ended with a blessing in English: “God bless you all – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Pray for me, don’t forget! I’ll pray for you. Thank you very much for your visit.”
Bonnyville Friendship Centre says “It is well received”
Lakeland Connect reached out to Janet Gobert who is the Community Initiatives Coordinator at the Bonnyville Friendship Centre to gain her thoughts on the apology issued by the Pope.
“On behalf of the Bonnyville Friendship Centre we recognize the apology that was given without justification by Pope Francis.” Gobert told Lakeland Connect. “The Catholic Church statement of involvement is also duly noted. Recognizing the horrendous legacy of Residential School and the involvement of the Catholic Church, we appreciate the apology as a step towards healing and reconciliation for not only the Residential School survivors but also the families of generations past and future.”
The Bonnyville Friendship Centre has played a vital role in helping victims who suffered abuse by the hands of the Catholic Church.
“It is has been our intent with the BFC Residential School Project (that we provide for the youth of our community) that we strive to depict an accurate portrayal of abuses suffered and in no way minimize the inter generational trauma experienced,” Gobert said. “My question would be is an apology enough at this point in time and what further steps will be taken by the Catholic Church to continue to achieve reconciliation. I believe this is an apology that has been long waiting and it is well received.”