Pope expresses ‘willingness’ to visit Canada for indigenous reconciliation

Along the highway in Kamloops, British Columbia, on Jun 19, 2021, a line of children’s clothing represented children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The Vatican announced Wednesday, Oct 19, that Pope Francis had “indicated his willingness” to visit Canada, after Indigenous leaders in the country had repeatedly demanded he apologise for the church’s role in residential schools. Amber Bracken/The New York Times
The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis had “indicated his willingness” to visit Canada, after Indigenous leaders in the country had repeatedly demanded he apologise for the church’s role in residential schools.

In a brief statement, the Vatican said that Canada’s bishops had invited Francis “in the context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous people,” and that he had expressed “his willingness to visit” on a date yet to be determined.

Canada’s bishops, expressing their gratitude, said that Francis had accepted their invitation.

A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined that residential schools, the system of mandatory boarding schools for Indigenous children that were mostly operated by Catholic organisations, were a form of “cultural genocide.” Physical and sexual abuse, it found, was widespread at the schools, and the commission has called for the pope to apologise.

The pope has repeatedly rebuffed such requests, including those from Indigenous leaders and from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who made a direct appeal during a meeting at the Vatican.

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, said that he was confident that the pope’s visit would finally yield an apology.

“It’s a good sign,” he said. “The No. 1 priority for us is to get him to come to Canada.”

RoseAnne Archibald, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said on Twitter that she would welcome the pope “when he arrives in Canada to issue a long overdue apology.” She said that she would also call on him to renounce and “formally revoke” the papal Doctrine of Discovery from 1493, which proclaims that any land not inhabited by Christians could be “discovered,” claimed and exploited by nations ruled by Christians.

The announcement comes months after the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children were found in May using ground-penetrating radar on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Similar discoveries have since been made elsewhere, shocking many Canadians.

In December, Francis is scheduled to meet with the representatives of three Indigenous groups in Canada: the First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit. Those sessions will take place over four days at the Vatican.

Chartrand, however, said that he and other Indigenous leaders would discuss the need for a session at the Vatican given the pope’s impending visit to Canada.

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