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Pope Francis In Canada; Apologies For Missionary Abuse To Indigenous Groups

Pope Francis begins a historic visit to Canada to apologize to indigenous peoples for abuses by missionaries at residential schools. The visit is part of the Catholic Church’s efforts to reconcile with native communities and help them heal from generations of trauma. Francis kissed the hand of a residential school survivor as he was greeted at the Edmonton, Alberta, airport by Indigenous representatives.

Pope Francis’ visit to Canada has stirred mixed emotions as survivors and their families cope with the trauma of their losses and receive a long-sought papal apology. Francis had no official events scheduled Sunday, giving him time to rest before his meeting with survivors near the site of a former residential school in Maskwacis. He is expected to pray at a cemetery and apologize for the role of Catholic missionaries in the forced assimilation of generations of Native children.

Francis used an ambulift to exit the back of his plane because his strained knee ligaments required him to use a wheelchair. The simple welcome ceremony took place in an airport hangar, breaking the silence with Indigenous drumming and chanting. A succession of Indigenous leaders and elders greeted Francis and exchanged gifts as Trudeau and Simon sat beside him. As she was introduced to him, Francis kissed the hand of Frog Lake First Nations residential school survivor Elder Alma Desjarlais.

‘Many of our people are skeptical and they are hurt,’ says Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations. Indigenous groups are seeking more than just words from the pope, as they press for access to church archives. They also want justice for abused children and financial reparations. ‘I was just so overcome with emotion and there were different times on a plane where I really had to stop myself from breaking into a deep sob,’ the chief of the Assembly of First Nations said. Several members of her family attended residential schools, including a sister who died at one in Ontario. She described it as ‘an institution of assimilation and genocide’.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in state-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s. Some 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend in an effort to isolate them from their homes, Native languages and cultures. Francis’ week-long trip will take him to Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north.

Canada’s Catholic Church says its dioceses and religious orders have provided more than $50 million in cash and in-kind contributions, and hope to add $30 million more over the next five years. As part of a lawsuit settlement involving the government, churches and approximately 90,000 surviving students, billions of dollars were paid to Indigenous communities. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 had called for a papal apology to be delivered on Canadian soil. ‘I honestly believe that if it weren’t for the discovery of the possible remains of around 200 children, I don’t think any of this would have happened,’ an archivist says.

Frogner visited the headquarters of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. They operated 48 of the 139 Christian-run residential schools, the most of any Catholic order. After graves were discovered, they offered ‘complete transparency and accountability,’ Frogner said. He was researching names of alleged sex abusers from a single school in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

The Inuit community is seeking Vatican assistance to extradite a single Oblate priest. Canadian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him in 1998 on accusations of several counts of sexual abuse. Inuit leader Natan Obed personally asked Francis for the Vatican’s help in extraditing Rivoire. The Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said he had no information on the case.


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