Pope Francis makes his apology, saying the technical word for wiping out a people’s culture was “genocide.”
Pope Francis has said Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples amounted to a “genocide” after a six-day journey in which he apologized to survivors of abuse in Catholic schools.
The leader of the Catholic Church said on Saturday that “taking children, changing the culture, changing the mindset, changing the traditions, changing a race” amounted to genocide.
“I Didn’t Say the Word” [in Canada] because it didn’t occur to me, but I did describe it [it]. And I asked for forgiveness for this process that was genocide. I also condemned it,” he told reporters aboard his plane returning to Rome.
During his trip, the Pope apologized for the “harm” done to Indigenous communities in Canada’s residential schools, where children were sent as part of a policy of forced assimilation.
He cited the “cultural destruction” and the “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” of children over decades.
From the late 1800s to the 1990s, the Canadian government sent approximately 150,000 children to 139 Church-run residential schools, where they were cut off from their families, language, and culture.
Many were physically and sexually abused, and thousands are said to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.
Since May 2021, more than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered at the sites of the former schools, sending shockwaves across Canada — slowly acknowledging this long, dark chapter in its history.
The Pope’s tour of Canada ended Friday in the northern area of Nunavut, where he met survivors of a residential school.
“I thank you for the courage to tell your stories and share your great suffering that I could not imagine,” Pope Francis told the crowd.
At the beginning of the week, the Pope made his first apologies in Canada. “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil perpetrated by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples,” he said Monday.
For decades, indigenous leaders had called on the church to apologize for its role in the residential school system, and the papal apology offered this week was welcomed by some survivors as an important step on the path to healing.