Francis landed in Iqaluit, a population of 7,500, and met former primary school students to hear first-hand about their experiences as they were torn from their families and forced to attend church-run, government-funded boarding schools. The aim of the policy, in effect from the late 1800s to the 1970s, was to separate children from their indigenous cultures and assimilate them into Canadian Christian society.
“How bad it is to sever the ties between parents and children, harm our closest relations, harm and disgrace the little ones!” Francis narrated a gathering of Inuit youth and the elderly outside the school.
He thanked the school’s survivors for their courage in sharing their suffering, which he first heard last spring when delegations from First Nations, Metis and Inuit traveled to the Vatican to apologize.
“This just renewed the outrage and shame I’ve been feeling for months,” Francis said. “I want to tell you how sorry I am and to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs committed by not a few Catholics who contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation and suffrage in those schools.”
Before his speech, the Pope – sitting in a chair covered in sealskin – watched Inuit throat singers and dancers perform. During his speech, he said “I’m sorry” in Inuktitut, the Inuit language, and he drew lace curtains. And he ended by saying “thank you” in Inuktitut.
The events stretched much longer than planned; the Pope’s plane left for Rome about 90 minutes later than scheduled.
The visit concluded with an unusual tour specially designed to give the Pope an opportunity to apologize to generations of indigenous peoples for the abuses and injustices they have suffered and to reassure them that he was committed to helping them rebuild their relationship. to reconcile with the Catholic Church. After stops in Edmonton, Alberta, and Quebec City, Francis ended his pilgrimage in Nunavut, a vast area that spans the Arctic Circle and represents the furthest north the Argentine Pope has ever traveled.
Prior to his arrival, organizers prepared dozens of hats with mesh face shields to protect against the mosquitoes that sometimes abound in the mild summer temperatures of Iqaluit, located some 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
The Canadian government has said physical and sexual abuse was rampant in residential schools, and Francis on Thursday begged forgiveness for the “harm” of clergy sexual abuse and pledged an “irreversible commitment” to prevent it from happening again. His vow came after he omitted a reference to sexual abuse in his first apology this week, upsetting some survivors and earning a complaint from the Canadian government.
Francis’s apologies have received a mixed response, with some school survivors hailing them as helpful for their healing and others saying much more needs to be done to correct past mistakes and pursue justice. Several protesters showed up at the main event in Iqaluit with placards making such demands.
The Inuit community is seeking help from the Vatican to extradite an Oblaten priest, the Rev. Joannes Rivoire, who served the Inuit communities until he left and returned to France in the 1990s. Canadian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998 on charges of several counts of sexual abuse, but it was never served.
The Canadian government said this week it had asked France to extradite Rivoire, but did not say when. Rivoire has denied doing anything.
Francis heard from survivors in a private meeting, including a woman whose daughter died at a residential school; the woman and her husband have been searching for her grave for years. Another speaker was the daughter of one of Rivoire’s victims, who died after years of alcohol abuse, said Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for victims of clergy abuse who fought for years to bring Rivoire to justice.
The Inuit warmly welcomed Francis to their homeland and lit a ceremonial lamp or qulliq for the occasion.
Francis referred to its symbolic meaning in his comments, saying that it dispelled the darkness and brought warmth.
“We are here with the desire to embark on a journey of healing and reconciliation together that, with the help of the Creator, can help us shed light on what has happened and put that dark past behind us,” Francis said.
Francis addressed younger generations, urging them to also choose light over dark, to keep hope alive, set high goals and protect the environment. He emphasized the value of teamwork and recalled the successes of Canada’s beloved national sport of ice hockey.
Jimmy Lucassi, an Inuit from Iqaluit, was on the school grounds with his wife and children for Francis’s visit. “It probably means a lot to a lot of people,” he said. “It’s all we’ve talked about. They closed the stores to celebrate.”
The trip was the first in which the 85-year-old pope was forced to use a wheelchair, walker and cane because of painful strained knee ligaments that forced him to cancel a trip to Africa earlier this month. Even on a shorter schedule, the trip was clearly uncomfortable for Francis, and he said he felt “limited” by his inability to move freely as he pleases.
Future travel is not clear. Francis has said he wants to visit Kiev, Ukraine, but there is no trip on the horizon right away. He is also expected in Kazakhstan in mid-September for an interfaith meeting that could provide an opportunity to meet Russian Patriarch Kirill, who has justified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Reaction to Francis’s visit to Canada has been mixed, with even the government saying its apology did not go far enough to take blame for the institutional role the Catholic Church played in supporting school policies.
Some of the school’s survivors have accepted his apology as sincere and helpful in their process of healing from trauma. Others felt it still left something to be desired, angry that it took the discovery of suspected unmarked graves outside some residential schools before the Pope apologized after Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission specifically called for a papal apology on Canadian soil in 2015.
Still others have demanded the church provide more information about the plight of children who never returned home from schools and have rejected the 15th century papal bulls that informed the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” that prevented the seizure of indigenous lands. legitimized in the colonial era. to spread Christianity.
The Vatican itself is unlikely to have any data on the fate of indigenous children who died in the schools, although it would have documentation of priests facing canonical punishment after 2001, and possibly before that. If the records about the children exist, they would likely be in the records of individual religious orders.
Gillies reported from Quebec City.
Associated Press religious coverage is supported by the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.