Pope Francis begins trip to Canada to apologize to Indigenous peoples

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Pope Francis began a tense six-day official visit to Canada this Sunday, July 24, with the main objective of apologizing to Indigenous peoples for the abuses of missionaries in Christian residential schools between the 19th century and the 1970s. pontiff also referred to the war in Ukraine and said he had a “great desire” to go to Kyiv.

As a “penitential journey,” Pope Francis described his official visit to Canada.

The highest representative of the Catholic Church, who will remain in the country for six days, starting this Sunday, July 24, aims to apologize to the indigenous peoples for the abuses they have suffered by the religious in the boarding schools between the 19th century and the 1970s, in the so-called “assimilation” processes.

This is a key step in the Vatican’s efforts to reconcile with Indigenous communities in North America and help them heal the traumas that span generations.

“It’s a penitential trip, we’re doing it in that spirit,” Francis said, on the trip aboard the papal plane, before being received at the airport in Edmonton, Alberta, by Prime Minister Canadian Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary May Simon, the first Indigenous female Governor General, of the Inuit people.

The pope has given priority to meetings with the indigenous peoples, he will hold at least five meetings with them, while talks with the authorities of the country are scheduled until Wednesday, July 27, in Quebec.

Yet indigenous groups are looking for more than just words as they demand access to church records to learn the fate of children sent to boarding schools who never returned home.

Likewise, they demand justice and punishment for the aggressors, economic reparations and the return of the indigenous relics that are in the possession of the Vatican Museums.

“This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the church to mend relationships with Indigenous peoples around the world… But it doesn’t stop there, there’s a lot to do. It’s a beginning,” said Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Treaty Six Confederacy.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was endemic in state-funded Christian schools, which operated from the 19th century to the 1970s.

Some 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and forced to attend in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their home, language and culture of origin and to “integrate” into the Christian Society of Canada.

The country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called for a papal apology to be made on Canadian soil, but it wasn’t until 2021, after the remains of around 200 children were found at the former boarding school. of Kamloops in British Columbia, that the Vatican moved to comply with the request.

“Honestly, I think without the discovery and all the attention to clergy or the Catholic Church, I don’t think any of this would have happened,” said Raymond Frogner, senior archivist at the National Center. for Truth and Reconciliation, which serves as a resource for the investigation of what happened in these Catholic schools.

This visit is also a test for the health of the pope, who had to cancel a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan in early July because of a knee problem that recently forced him to use a wheelchair and a cane.

Pope says ‘great desire’ to visit Ukraine

The Vatican leader also once again denounced the war launched by Russia against Ukraine, expressed his support for the country under attack and called for an end to the conflict which has claimed thousands of lives and left more than 9 million citizens in exile.

“I have a great desire to go to Kyiv,” the pope said when asked about a possible future trip to Ukraine.

No pope has ever visited Moscow, and Francis has repeatedly condemned the Russian invasion of his neighboring country. Last June, he implicitly accused the Kremlin of waging a “cruel and senseless war of aggression”.

In an exclusive interview earlier in July, the religious leader told Reuters he hoped to be able to visit the Russian capital and Kyiv soon after his trip to Canada.

Following the interview, Vladimir Putin’s government said it had had no substantive contact with the Vatican regarding a possible visit, while Ukraine renewed its invitation to the pontiff to address that nation. .

For now, for this Monday, July 25, on his second day of touring Canada, the pontiff has scheduled a meeting with survivors of missionary abuse, near a former boarding school in Maskwacis, where he is expected to issue an official apology. .

With Reuters, AP and EFE

Spike Caldwell

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