Pope Francis expresses sadness and asks forgiveness for boarding schools

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

In his first public remarks on his visit to Canada, Pope Francis on Monday expressed his grief and asked for forgiveness and healing for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools.

“I’ve been waiting to come here and be with you,” the pope told thousands of Indigenous people who converged on Maskwacis, Alberta.

“Here, from this place, associated with painful memories, I would like to begin what I consider a pilgrimage. A penitential pilgrimage.

“I have come to your native lands to tell you my pain in person. To implore forgiveness, healing and reconciliation from God. To express my closeness and to pray with you and for you.”

In his remarks, the pope repeatedly said he was sorry for past actions, supported by many Church members, that created the “disastrous error” and “deplorable evil” of residential schools.

“I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against indigenous peoples,” he said.

He said the memories of the children who never returned from residential schools left him with feelings of “grief, outrage and shame”.

After arriving in the small prairie community of Alberta, the Pope visited the Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery for a moment of silence, prayer and reflection. Organizers say there are likely remains of boarding school students among the graves.

The nearby Ermineskin Indian Residential School was one of the largest Indian residential schools in the country.

During his visit to Maskwacis, Francis will speak in a large open space to school survivors, their loved ones and other well-wishers. He is expected to apologize for generations of abuse and cultural repression at Canada’s Catholic residential schools.

Francis is expected to speak after 10:00 a.m. MT. You can watch his remarks here.

A number of live interpretation streams, including in 12 Indigenous languages ​​and American Sign Language, will be available on the official website of the Pope’s visit.

Arriving in a steady drizzle, buses full of school survivors, Indigenous elders and their families were helped to find seats in tents near the site of the now largely demolished former boarding school .

Historical significance

One of the event’s hosts, Chief Randy Ermineskin of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, waited for the pope in a nearby parking lot and gave an update on the day’s historical significance.

“My deceased family members are no longer here with us, my parents went to residential school, I went to residential school,” Ermineskin told The Associated Press, wearing a traditional feathered Cree headdress.

“I know they are with me, they are listening, they are watching.”

Five teepees are installed on the site, one of which represents the entrance to the old school.

In the afternoon, Francis is scheduled to meet with Native people and parish members at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton.

Later in the week, the pope plans to hold a high outdoor mass at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton and participate in a pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne, before going to Quebec and Iqaluit.

Francis arrived in Canada on Sunday for a six-day trip aimed at reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Francis embarked on the Canadian tour on April 1, after meeting for several days with First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups at the Vatican. At the time, Francis apologized for the deplorable conduct of some church members involved in residential schools and promised to visit Canada.

Pope Francis attends a silent prayer at the cemetery during his meeting with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Indigenous communities in Maskwacis, Alta., on Monday. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

Indigenous delegates told the Pope they wanted an apology on Canadian soil.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where physical and sexual abuse and neglect were rampant. More than 60% of the schools were run by the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope told reporters before his plane landed in Edmonton that the visit had to be done with care.

“I hope, with the grace of God, that my penitential pilgrimage can contribute to the path of reconciliation already undertaken. Please accompany me with prayer,” said a message on the Pope’s Twitter account.

Indigenous people gather to see Pope Francis during his visit to Maskwacis, Alta., on Monday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.

A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional referral and crisis services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24/7 through the Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.