Pope Francis to meet with survivors of Canada's notorious Indigenous schools

ROME – Pope Francis agreed to meet with indigenous survivors from Canada’s infamous residential schools in December to seek a papal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in the abuse and death of thousands of local children.

The Canadian Bishops’ Conference said Francis had invited the delegations to the Vatican and will meet separately with three groups – First Nations, Metis and Inuit – during their visit December 17-20. The Pope will then conduct a final audience with all three groups on December 20, according to a statement from the conference on Tuesday.

The Vatican did not confirm the visit on Wednesday, but the Holy See’s in-house news portal reported on the testimony of the bishops. Canadian bishops said the trip was pandemic contingent and delegations would include boarding school survivors, indigenous elders and youth, as well as indigenous leaders and Canadian bishops.

In the past few weeks, investigators who have used ground penetrating radar have reported that hundreds of unmarked graves have been found at the sites of two residential schools for indigenous children. The discoveries – more than 600 graves in one school, 215 bodies in another – have revived calls, including from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after a formal apology from the Pope.

From the 19th century through the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in order to integrate them into Canadian society. Thousands of children died there from disease and other causes, many never returning to their families.

Almost three-quarters of the 130 boarding schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary churches, others by the Presbyterian, Anglican and the United Church of Canada, which is now the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

The government officially apologized for the policies and abuses in 2008. In addition, the Presbyterian, Anglican and United Churches have apologized for their roles in the mistreatment.

The Canadian bishops did not mention the demand for a papal apology in the statement, simply saying that Francis “is deeply determined to hear directly from indigenous peoples”.

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It stated that he had personally invited the indigenous delegations and that he would use the meetings to “express his sincere closeness to the impact of colonization and the role of the church in the boarding school system in the hope of addressing the suffering of the indigenous people Peoples to respond ”. and the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma. “

A papal apology was one of 94 recommendations made by the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the Canadian Bishops’ Conference said in 2018 that the Pope could not personally apologize for boarding schools.

Pope Benedict XVI, who retired in 2013, met with some former students and victims in 2009 and told them about his “personal agony” over their suffering. But he didn’t offer an apology.

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