Pope Francis to apologize to survivors of Canadian residential schools during his trip

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EDMONTON, Canada — Pope Francis will begin a long-awaited act of reconciliation in Canada on Monday, visiting the former site of an Indian residential school on the first full day of a journey he says will “begin and end.” by penance.

Francis should apologize for the involvement of the Catholic Church in a school system that forced indigenous children from their parents and attempted to assimilate them – often brutally – into Euro-Christian society.

Francis’ visit is the result of years of native demands for official recognition of the church. Although Francis faltered for much of his pontificate, he faced increasing pressure after indigenous groups said last year that ground-penetrating radar had located hundreds of unmarked graves in near old boarding schools.

Pope Francis visits Canada with an apology on the agenda

The trip is a major break from the norms of papal overseas travel, where celebration and evangelism tend to be central goals. In this case, 85-year-old Francis opted for only a modest welcome ceremony when he landed in Edmonton on Sunday, where he was greeted with Indigenous music, and he chose to make no remarks until upon his arrival Monday morning in Maskwacis, an aboriginal community in the plains of Alberta.

Although the boarding school system is no longer in use, with the last schools closing in the 1990s, the colonizing ideas that supported it remain sources of reckoning in the modern Roman Catholic Church. Francis, the first South American pope, comes from a continent where Christianity was brought by conquerors. During a trip to Bolivia in 2015, he apologized for the “serious sins” of the church during colonialism and for the crimes committed against indigenous people.

In Canada, at least 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly placed in the residential school system, notorious for its poor conditions. Malnutrition was rampant, as was physical and sexual abuse, and children were dying at rates several times the national norm.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in a landmark 2015 report, called it “institutionalized child neglect.” The Catholic Church ran the majority of schools; others were run by Anglicans, Presbyterians and the United Church. The report says schools played on the idea of ​​bringing “civilization and salvation” to children.

“These are the reasons that have been used to justify making the lives of so many children so unhappy,” the report said.

Francis, after hosting an indigenous delegation at the Vatican, apologized in April for the “deplorable conduct” of some “members” of the Catholic Church involved in the residential school system. But some survivors say those words didn’t go far enough, and they hope Francis will address the complicity of the Catholic Church. They also urged him to commit to publishing the documents related to the residential schools and returning the artifacts from the Vatican Museum.

At Francis’ first stop on Monday, he is expected to speak in front of several thousand people, many of whom are survivors of the residential school system. He will also pray on the grounds of the cemetery believed to house the remains of boarding school students, and he will visit the former site of the Ermineskin Boarding School, which opened in 1895 and was operated by Roman Catholic missionaries for much of his existence. It was placed under federal control in 1969 and closed in 1970.

In testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, former students of this school painted a picture of days marked by loneliness, fear and abuse. One said she was told that the Sun Dance, an Aboriginal ceremony, was tantamount to devil worship.

Marilyn Buffalo told the commission that teachers called the children “savages”.

Overcrowding and disease outbreaks, including measles, hepatitis, and diphtheria, were common. A 1940s survey found that a third of students suffered from tuberculosis and suggested that students be sent to hospital. Instead, some were sent home and others were kept under observation.

In 1966, a school supervisor wrote to the Chief Superintendent of Education of the Federal Department of Indian Affairs reporting that priests were whipping girls with straps on their “bare buttocks”. She included testimony from two students. She was fired.

At least 15 children have died or gone missing at Ermineskin School, according to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, over its history.

Victor Buffalo was 7 years old when he was sent to Ermineskin School and spoke no English. He told the Washington Post that school administrators withheld food as punishment and frequently whipped him for speaking his native cry.

After such a beating in front of his friends, Buffalo, the former chief of the Samson Cree Nation in Alberta, retreated to a nearby bathroom to cry — not because he was in physical pain, he said. he said, but because his mother and father weren’t there to take care of him.

Buffalo said his relationship with his parents, who also attended residential schools, was strained for many decades after he left school in 1961. Severing ties with Aboriginal culture, including family ties, was the one of the goals of the system.

“The biggest thing we lost was love,” said Buffalo, who will be present when Francis visits Maskwacis. “A family’s love, a mother’s love, a father’s love.”

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