VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis began a busy visit to Canada on Sunday to apologize to indigenous peoples for abuses committed by missionaries in residential schools, a key step in the Catholic Church’s efforts to reconcile with communities indigenous peoples and help them heal from generations of trauma.
Francis was flying to Edmonton, Alberta, where he was to be greeted on the tarmac by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary May Simon, an Inuk who is Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General. Francis had no official events scheduled for Sunday, giving him time to rest before meeting survivors near the site of a former boarding school in Maskwacis on Monday, where he is expected to issue an apology.
However, Indigenous groups are looking for more than just words, as they demand access to church records to learn the fate of children who never returned from residential schools. They also want justice for the perpetrators, financial reparations and the return of indigenous artifacts held by the Vatican Museums.
“This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the church to restore relationships with Indigenous peoples around the world,” said Grand Chief George Arcand Jr., of the Treaty Six Confederacy. But he stressed: “It doesn’t stop there – there’s a lot to do. It’s a start.”
Francis’ week-long trip — which will take him to Edmonton; Quebec and finally Iqaluit, in Nunavut, in the Far North — follows the meetings he held in the spring at the Vatican with delegations from the First Nations, Métis and Inuit. These meetings culminated in a historic apology on April 1 for “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.
The Canadian government has admitted physical and sexual abuse was endemic 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 the goal of isolating them from the influence of their homes, native languages and cultures and assimilating them into the Christian society of Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada had called in 2015 for a papal apology to be made on Canadian soil, but that was only after the remains of around 200 children from the former Kamloops boarding school were discovered in 2021 in BC that the Vatican has mobilized to comply. with the request.
“I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for the discovery…and all the spotlight that’s been shone on the Oblates or the Catholic Church as well, I don’t think any of this would have happened,” Raymond said. Frogner, chief archivist of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, which serves as an online resource for residential school research.
Frogner has just returned from Rome where he spent five days at the headquarters of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 of the 139 Christian boarding schools, the most of any Catholic order. After the graves were discovered, the Oblates finally offered “full transparency and accountability” and allowed him to enter their headquarters to search for the names of alleged sex offenders from a single school in the province of Saskatchewan. , in western Canada, he said.
There he found 1,000 original black and white photos of schools and their students, with inscriptions on the back, which he said would be of immense value to survivors and their families in the hope to find traces of their loved ones. He said the Oblates have agreed on a common project to digitize the photographs and make them available online.
The Inuit community, for its part, is asking for the Vatican’s help in extraditing a single Oblate priest, the Reverend Joannes Rivoire, who ministered to Inuit communities until his departure in the 1990s and his return to France. Canadian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998 on charges of multiple counts of sexual abuse, but it was never served.
Inuit leader Natan Obed personally asked Francis for help from the Vatican to extradite Rivoire, saying in March it was a specific thing the Vatican could do to bring healing to its many victims.
“This is part of the journey of reconciliation that we are undertaking together,” he said then.
Asked about the request, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said last week he had no information about the case.
At a Saturday press conference in Edmonton, organizers said they would do everything possible to allow school survivors to attend papal events, particularly for the Maskwaci apology and Tuesday’s rally in Lac Ste. Anne, long a popular place of pilgrimage for native Catholics.
Both are in rural areas and the organizers arrange shuttle transport from various park and ride locations. They noted that many survivors are now elderly and frail and may need accessible vehicle transportation, diabetic-friendly snacks, and other services.
The Reverend Cristino Bouvette, national liturgical coordinator for the papal visit, who is of part indigenous descent, said he hopes the visit heals those who “carried a wound, a cross with which they suffered, in some case for generations”. .”
Bouvette, a priest from the Diocese of Calgary, said papal liturgical events will have strong Indigenous representation — including prominent roles for Indigenous clergy and the use of Indigenous languages, music and designs on liturgical vestments.
Bouvette said he was doing this work in honor of his “kokum,” the Cree word for grandmother, who spent 12 years at a boarding school in Edmonton. She “probably never could have imagined these many years later that her grandson would be involved in this work”.