The Pope meets in the Vatican with indigenous groups and bishops of Canada

Pope Francis received this March 28 at the Vatican two groups of representatives of indigenous populations of Canada who were accompanied by some prelates of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).

As reported by the Holy See Press Office, there were two different audiences of one hour each and in which the Pope wanted to “listen and give space to painful stories” of some victims of abuse.

Specifically, the first meeting was with around ten Métis delegates and the second meeting was with eight Inuit representatives.

For its part, the CCCB indicated in an official statement that in the last year there has been “a national debate throughout the country on the tragic history of internees in Canada” and noted that “the Catholic bishops of Canada are deeply saddened by the legacy of the boarding schools and remain fully committed to working with indigenous peoples and communities across the country to support healing and reconciliation.”

“We also sadly acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and legacy of suffering and challenges faced by indigenous peoples and that continue to this day,” added the note from the Canadian Episcopate.

In this way, the bishops pointed out that initiatives are being carried out to walk “together towards healing and reconciliation”, for which the Holy Father’s meeting with “indigenous survivors, the elderly, guardians of knowledge and young people” will provide “relevant information for educational and spiritual resources” in this ongoing process “for healing and reconciliation.”

Calendar in the Vatican

The two audiences with the Pope, this Monday, March 28, were the first of several activities that the indigenous delegations will carry out with some bishops during the five days that they will be in the Vatican.

On Tuesday, March 29, the delegates will visit the Vatican museums, the following day they will participate in the General Audience of the Holy Father, on Thursday, March 31, the Pope will receive a delegation from the First Nations, and finally, on Friday, April 1, the Pontiff will a final audience in the Apostolic Palace with all the delegations.

Closeness of Pope Francis

In June 2021, Pope Francis expressed his sorrow over the discovery of unidentified graves with the remains of 215 indigenous children in a former Catholic residence in Canada.

The bodies were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, in the territory of the K’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, in the province of British Columbia.

At the moment, it is unknown how the minors died and their identity, since neither the deaths nor the burials were documented. The discovery of the tombs was made thanks to the use of ground-penetrating radar.

For this reason, the Holy Father expressed his closeness to the Canadian bishops, to the entire Catholic Church in Canada, and to the entire population “who has been traumatized by this shocking news.”

At the time, the Pope called this discovery “frightening” and “sad” and added that this fact “increases our awareness of the pain and suffering of the past.”

“That the political and religious authorities of Canada continue to collaborate with determination to shed light on this sad event and humbly commit themselves to a path of reconciliation and healing,” he asked.

Likewise, the Holy Father warned that “these difficult times are a strong call for all of us to move away from the colonizing model and even from the ideological colonizations of today, and walk together in dialogue, mutual respect and recognition of the rights and values culture of all the daughters and sons of Canada.

Finally, Pope Francis requested on that occasion “to commend to the Lord the souls of all the children who have died in residential schools in Canada, and to pray for the families and native Canadian communities that face the pain.”

Canadian Indigenous Schools Case

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was founded in the year 1890 under government control. The school, initially named the Kamloops Industrial School, came under the management of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1892 to 1969. In that year the school returned to Canadian government control.

The school functioned as a residence for children of indigenous populations, known in Canada as “First Nations”.

There are currently around 634 First Nations communities in Canada. According to the 2016 census, these group more than 975 thousand people.

This residential school, once the largest in Canada, was closed in 1978. An investigation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, conducted between 2008 and 2015 to document the past and impact of these institutions, documented that 51 children had died in the Kamloops.

The investigation concluded that between 4,000 and 6,000 students died due to neglect or as a result of abuse in the different Canadian residential schools, the last of which, run by the federal government, closed in 1996.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s investigation concluded that Canada’s residential school system separated indigenous, Inuit and Métis children from their families, alienating them from their cultures and forcing their assimilation.

On May 31, 2021, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Msgr. Richard Gagnon, expressed, on behalf of the bishops, his “deepest sorrow for the heartbreaking loss of the children of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation”.

Archbishop Gagnon acknowledged that “this tragedy deeply impacts indigenous communities, with whom many people on this earth and around the world now stand in solidarity.”

In addition, the bishops pledged to help affected families and communities. “As we see more and more clearly the pain and suffering of the past, the Bishops of Canada commit ourselves to continue to walk alongside indigenous peoples in the present, seeking greater healing and reconciliation for the future.”

For his part, the Bishop of Kamloops, Msgr. Joseph Nguyen, stated on May 28, 2021 that he felt “heartbroken and horrified” by the revelation: “There are no words of pain that can adequately describe this horrible discovery.”

The Archbishop of Vancouver, Archbishop Michael Miller, showed the commitment of the Church in Canada to offer transparency and collaboration in the identification of deceased children and in providing them with a proper burial.

Bishop Miller wrote a letter to the leaders of First Nations and other indigenous peoples – made public on June 2, 2021 – in which he offered a “profound apology and heartfelt condolences to the families and communities that have been devastated.” .

He affirmed that “the Church was undoubtedly wrong to implement a colonialist government policy that resulted in devastation for children, their families and communities” and added that apologies “must be accompanied by concrete actions that allow the full truth”.

In this way, the Prelate made the files and records regarding the residential schools available for investigation.

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