Thousands of indigenous people gathered in the small Alberta prairie community of Mosquas on Monday to hear Pope Francis’ long-awaited apology for racial abuse and cultural suppression in Canada’s Catholic residential schools.
Francis was due to arrive mid-morning at the site of the former Armenian Indian Residential School, now largely dilapidated. He planned to stop at the sites of the former school and a nearby cemetery before speaking in a large open area. School survivors, their relatives and other supporters.
In the drizzling rain, local people stood under umbrellas or tents waiting for the Pope.
Francis arrived in Edmonton on Sundaywhere they were welcomed by political and church dignitaries along with representatives of Canada’s three main indigenous groups – First Nations, Métis and Inuit. At the reception, Francis kissed the hand of a residential school survivor, Elder Alma Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nations, a sign of the humility and respect he has shown when meeting Holocaust survivors in the past. What is used?
The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse occurred 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.
Catholic religious orders ran 66 of Canada’s 139 residential schools, where thousands of children died from disease, fire and other causes.
Francis’ six-day trip – which will include other sites in Alberta, as well as Quebec City in the north and Iqaluit, Nunavut – follows meetings with First Nations, Métis and delegations at the Vatican in the spring. Inuit. Those meetings ended with a April 1 historic amnesty for the “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.
America’s first pope had vowed to travel, even though a torn knee ligament forced him to cancel a trip to Africa earlier this month. Francis, 85, has called it a “condolence pilgrimage” to help the Catholic Church reconcile with indigenous peoples and rid them of the “cultural genocide” of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The same commission’s report called for Francis to apologize for abuses on Canadian soil, a request he is fulfilling with the trip.
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.
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.
As part of a settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches and some 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid reparations amounting to billions of dollars transferred to local communities. The Catholic Church of Canada says its dioceses and religious orders have provided more than $50 million in cash and in-kind support and hopes to add another $30 million over the next five years.
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 correspondents Peter Smith in Edmonton and Rob Glaze in Toronto contributed to this report.
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Nicole Winfield, Associated Press