Pope Francis to apologize to indigenous people in Canada for school abuse

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Thousands of Indigenous people are expected to gather in the small Alberta prairie community of Mosquas on Monday for Pope Francis’ long-awaited call for racial abuse and cultural suppression in Catholic residential schools across Canada. Listen to the apology.

Francis is scheduled to arrive in the morning at the site of the former Armenian Indian Residential School, now largely demolished. He will stop at the site of the former school and a nearby cemetery before speaking to school survivors, their relatives and other supporters in a large open area.

Francis arrived in Edmonton on Sunday, where he was greeted by representatives of Canada’s three main indigenous groups – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – along with political and church dignitaries. The Pope spent the rest of the day resting in a seminary in the provincial capital.

The Canadian government has admitted that incidents of physical and sexual abuse were rife in government-aided Christian schools from the 19th century to the 1970s. Approximately 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to participate in an effort to isolate them from their homes, the influence of Indigenous languages ​​and cultures, and integrate them into Canadian Christian society.

Francis’ six-day trip – which will include other sites in Alberta, Quebec City and as far north as Iqaluit, Nunavut – follows meetings he held at the Vatican in the spring with First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegations. Who were The meetings concluded on April 1 with a historic apology for the “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.

Thousands of children died from disease, fire and other causes. The discovery of hundreds of potential burial sites at former schools in the past year has drawn international attention to the legacy of schools in Canada and their counterparts in the United States.

Francis is now following through on his commitment to apologize on Canadian soil.

Maskwacis, about an hour south of Edmonton, is the center of four Cree nations.

Event organizers said they will do everything possible to ensure survivors can attend the event. Many will travel from park-and-ride locations, and organizers recognize that many survivors are elderly and will need accessible vehicles, diabetes-friendly snacks and other amenities.

Catholics ran the majority of Canadian schools, while various Protestant denominations ran others with government support.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year apologized for an “incredibly harmful government policy” in regulating the residential school system, will also attend the Moscow event along with other government officials.

In Maskwacis, the former school where Francis is visiting has been replaced by a school system run by four local Cree nations. The curriculum affirms indigenous culture that was once suppressed.

Chief Greg Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nation in northern Alberta, who survived one of the schools, said Sunday after the pope’s visit that there were “mixed emotions across this country” over his visit.

“I think today of the young people who have not built a home and are buried around residential schools,” he told a news conference after a welcome ceremony at the airport. But he expressed hope that this visit could be the beginning of reconciliation.

“I know we feel better when two people apologize,” he said. “But our people have been through so much. … Our people have been traumatized. Some of them didn’t make it home. Now I hope the world will see why our people are being hurt so much.

On Monday afternoon, Francis is scheduled to visit the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, a Catholic parish in Edmonton devoted to Indigenous people and culture. The church, which was dedicated last week after being restored by fire, incorporates local language and customs into worship.

“I never in my life thought I’d see a pope here at Sacred Heart Church,” said Fernie Marty, who holds the title of church elder. “And now we have this opportunity.”

When Francis visits, the church will display the clothing, bread and other supplies it regularly provides to those in need, including many of Edmonton’s estimated urban Indigenous population of 75,000.

The visit will be an “encounter” that will “help people know what we are, who we are,” said its pastor, the Rev. Jesus Sosai.


Associated Press reporters Nicole Winfield in Edmonton and Rob Glaze in Toronto contributed to this report.


The Associated Press’ coverage of religion is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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