Pope Francis on Monday issued a long-awaited and historic apology to Indigenous peoples for the harm the Catholic Church did to them at Canada’s residential schools.
“I ask (for) forgiveness,” the pope said. “I am deeply sorry.”
Francis was flanked by chiefs representing all three Indigenous groups – Metis, Inuit and First Nations – as he delivered the apology at the former Ermineskin residential school site in Maskwacis in Alberta, Canada.
Francis is on a six-day “penitential pilgrimage” to express his sorrow for the abuse done by priests and nuns to the country’s three Indigenous tribes.
About 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend the schools, sometimes tearing families apart.
The goal of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools was to wipe out Indigenous culture and replace it with “white” culture. The first of 139 schools opened in the 1820s and the last closed in the 1990s.
A 2019 inquiry called what occurred at those schools called “genocide,” as acknowledged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year, with 4,300-6,000 children having died from disease and sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.
Francis earlier apologized at the Vatican for the horrific harm done by priests and nuns, as the church administered about 60% of the schools.
But Trudeau and many Indigenous members, survivors, and their families requested the pope deliver an apology on Canadian soil, where the atrocities took place.
Francis arrived on Sunday for a six-day visit to do just that.
“Dear brothers and sisters of Canada,” the pope tweeted before his departure from Rome on Sunday.
“I come among you to meet the indigenous peoples. I hope, with God's grace, that my penitential pilgrimage might contribute to the journey of reconciliation already undertaken. Please accompany me with prayer.”
The pope’s agenda is full during his six-day visit, including stops in Edmonton, Alberta, Quebec, and the Inuit nation in Canada’s far north before returning to Rome.