Pope Expresses ‘Shame and Sorrow’ for Residential Schools in Quebec Speech

QUEBEC –

Pope Francis on Wednesday expressed his shame and sorrow at the role Catholic institutions played in the “deplorable” residential school system that sought to deprive indigenous people of their language, culture and worldview.

Speaking at Quebec City’s historic Citadelle, Francis asked for forgiveness for the damage done by the assimilation policies in the schools.

“In that deplorable system promoted by the government authorities at the time, which separated many children from their families, several local Catholic institutions played a role,” Francis said.

“For this reason, I express my deep shame and sorrow and, together with the bishops of this country, I renew my plea for forgiveness for the wrongs that so many Christians have done to the indigenous peoples.”

It is the second papal apology on Canadian soil for Francis, who is halfway through a six-day tour he has described as a “pilgrimage of penance.” During a speech on Monday in Maskwacis, Alta, he pleaded for forgiveness for the “evil perpetrated by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples.”

The Pope left Edmonton on Wednesday morning, arriving in Quebec City in the mid-afternoon, heading to the Citadelle of Quebec for private meetings with Governor General Mary Simon and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In his speech, Francis said his time in Canada has given him a “firm desire” to move forward with reconciliation and to help heal the deep wounds of the past.

Speaking in Spanish and translated into several languages, he said the church is determined to respond in an “appropriate manner” to the appeals of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which publicized the abuse that took place in residential schools. recommendations to address this and “recognize the rights of indigenous peoples”.

He added that the Church is committed to promoting indigenous culture through “specific and appropriate forms of spiritual guidance that pay attention to their cultural traditions, customs, languages ​​and educational processes” in the spirit of the United States Declaration. Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Before his address, the Pope was presented with a wild turkey feather and sweet grass by a Huron-Wendat elder, Raymond Gros-Louis.

Speaking just before the pope, Simon said the pope’s visit was an important step towards further dialogue and actions that will lead to real reconciliation.

“Indeed, we look forward to more future actions by the Church to continue this vital work,” said Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, who delivered her speech in English, French and Inuktituk.

A second apology from the pope was a demand from some Quebec native leaders who said they deserved to hear the pope ask for forgiveness on their own soil.

However, on the Plains of Abraham, where Francis greeted the audience from his Popemobile later Wednesday, those who gathered ahead of the speech expressed mixed opinions about whether an apology would satisfy them.

There was a lot of police on site, as concerts and other artistic performances took place all afternoon. Although the site’s capacity is more than 100,000 people, the crowd that had gathered just over an hour before the Pope’s scheduled arrival was only a fraction of that number.

For the survivor of the residential school Omer St-Onge, the Pope’s visit is a “small step” in a journey of healing.

But St-Onge, from the Innu community of Uashat-Maliotenam on Quebec’s northern coast, said before the pope’s speech he hoped for more than just an apology.

“It’s time for the Pope to decide to give us back artifacts, items taken from us that are all in the Vatican and in churches, documents about young people who died,” said St-Onge, whose birth name is Uapan Ushekatok. is.

Fabien Jaubert, also from Uashat-Maliotenam, said he had come to honor the memories of residential school survivors, including his grandmother and aunts.

“I expect an apology from the Pope,” he said in an interview on the Plains of Abraham ahead of the Pope’s arrival. “I’d like him to make one on behalf of the church, rather than just certain actors.”

Among those in attendance at the site was a group of indigenous protesters who walked 275 kilometers from the site of the former Pointe-Bleue residential school in the Innu community of Mashteuiatsh in Quebec’s Saguenay region. The group, which started walking last Thursday, were greeted with cheers upon arrival at the podium.

The Pointe-Bleue Institution was the last of the federally funded, church-run schools to close in Quebec in 1991. Chantal Niquay, who attended the school, described the march as “liberating” and said it helped her heal from the scars of the past.

“I had my children young and I wasn’t quite there for them, but today I understand why. We love each other so much,” said the 43-year-old woman.

After visiting the Plains of Abraham, the Pope goes to the residence of the Archbishop of Quebec, where he plans to stay during his time in the province.

On Thursday, Francis will hold mass at the sanctuary of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre, east of the city, and then attend vespers with church officials at the Cathedral Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec.

On Friday, he makes a short stop in Iqaluit before heading home to the Vatican.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 27, 2022.


— With files from Frederic Lacroix-Couture in Quebec City and Morgan Lowrie in Montreal

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