Vatican City – Pope Francis embarks on a difficult tour of Canada on Sunday to apologize to the local peopleIt is an important step in the Catholic Church’s efforts to reconcile Native communities and help them overcome the trauma of generations.
Francis was flying to Edmonton, Alberta, where he was to be received by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary May Simon, an Inuk, Canada’s first indigenous governor general. Francis had no official schedule scheduled for Sunday, giving him time to rest ahead of his meeting on Monday with survivors near the site of a former residential school in Maskavasis, where he is expected to offer an apology.
On the pope’s plane, Francis told reporters it was an “atonement visit” and urged special prayers for elderly people and grandparents.
Indigenous groups are looking for more than just words, however, as they push for access to church archives to learn the fate of children who never return home from residential schools. They also want justice for abusers, financial compensation and the return of indigenous artifacts held by the Vatican museums.
George Arcand Jr., Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six, said: “This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the Church to improve relations with indigenous peoples around the world.” But he insisted: “It doesn’t end here – there’s a lot to be done. It’s just a beginning.”
Francis’ week-long trip – which will take him to Edmonton; Iqaluit, Nunavut in Quebec City and finally the far north – follows meetings held in the spring at the Vatican with delegations from the First Nations, Métis and Inuit. The conclusion of those meetings was a historic one. happened withFor the “disappointing” abuses perpetrated by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.
The Canadian government has acknowledged that physical and sexual abuse was widespread in state-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s. About 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to separate from the influences of their homes, native languages and cultures and participate in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian Christian society.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for an apology from the Pope on Canadian soil in 2015, but it was only in 2021 that the Vatican mobilized to comply after the discovery of the remains of nearly 200 children at a former Kamloops residential school in British Columbia. with request.
“I honestly believe that if it weren’t for the discovery … and all the spotlight that was placed on the Oblates or even the Catholic Church, I don’t think any of this would have happened,” said Raymond Frogner, National Center Head Archivist at For Truth and Reconciliation, which serves as an online resource for research in residential schools.
Frogner had just returned from Rome, where he spent five days at the headquarters of the Missionary Oblates of Mary the Immaculate, which operated 48 of the 139 Christian-run residential schools, the most of any Catholic order. After the tombs were discovered, the Oblates eventually offered “full transparency and accountability” and allowed them to research the names of alleged sexual abusers from a school in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan at their headquarters, he said.
While there, he found 1,000 original black-and-white photographs of the schools and their students with inscriptions on their backs that they said would be of great importance to the survivors and their families, who were hoping to find traces of their loved ones. . He said Oblates agreed on a joint project to digitize the photos and make them available online.
The Inuit community, for its part, is seeking Vatican aid to extradite a single oblate priest, Rev. Jones Rivoire, who served Inuit communities in the 1990s and returned to France. Canadian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him in 1998 on multiple counts of sexual abuse, but it was never executed.
Inuit leader Natan Obed personally sought the Vatican’s help with Francis’ extradition to Rivoire, telling the Associated Press in March that it was a specific thing the Vatican could do to recover many of its victims.
“It’s part of the reconciliation journey that we are on together,” he said then.
When asked about the request, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said last week that he had no knowledge of the matter.
At a news conference on Saturday in Edmonton, meanwhile, organizers said they would do everything possible to enable school survivors to attend papal events, in particular the Maskevasis amnesty and Tuesday’s gathering in Lac Ste. For. Anne has long been a popular pilgrimage site for indigenous Catholics.
Both are in rural areas, and organizers are arranging shuttle transportation to and from various park-and-ride lots. He notes that many survivors are now elderly and frail and may need accessible vehicular transportation, diabetes-friendly snacks and other services.
The Rev. Cristino Bouvet, the national liturgical coordinator for the Pope’s visit, which is partly of indigenous heritage, said he hoped the visit is healing for those who have suffered “a wound, a cross that they have suffered.” , in some cases for generations.”
Bouvet, a priest in the Diocese of Calgary, said the pope would have strong indigenous representation at religious events – including prominent roles for indigenous clergy and the use of native languages, music and motifs on liturgical costumes.
Bouvet said he was doing this specifically in honor of his “kokum,” the Cree word for grandmother, who spent 12 years at a residential school in Edmonton. She “might never have imagined after many years that her grandson would be involved in this work.”