During his first visit to Canada, Pope Francis apologized for abuses committed in Catholic schools for over 100 years against indigenous children in the country. “I apologize, in particular, for how members of the Church and religious communities collaborated with the cultural destruction project promoted by the governments that resulted in residential schools”, said the head of the Catholic Church. The apology was delivered during an event in a First Nation community in central Alberta.

The pontiff arrived in Canada on Sunday (24. Jul). In the morning, he met with former students in Maskwacis, a community
in the province of Alberta. Then he went to the old Residential School Indigenous Ermineskin made and made a public apology.

“I come among you to meet the indigenous peoples. I hope, with God’s grace, that my penitential pilgrimage might contribute to the journey of reconciliation already undertaken. Please accompany me with prayer, ” said Francis.

At various points in the speech, the pope reiterated the request for/excuses. He said residential schools were a “mistake
disastrous” and a “deplorable evil”.

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Francis told thousands of Indigenous people, including many survivors, who converged on Maskwacis, Alta., about 100 kilometers south of Edmonton.

The Pope spoke about the actions committed in schools. “I think back to the tragic situations that so many of you, your families, and your communities endured. Your languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed. I think back on how children suffered physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse. How they were taken away at such a young age…” he said.

The pontiff said the apology is the “starting point” and the process should result in an investigation to help the “survivors of residential schools to be able to cure themselves of trauma”.

Pope Francis asked Canadian citizens to accept and respect the “identity and experience” of indigenous peoples. he said he will
continue to encourage efforts by Catholics to support the communities.

On his Twitter account, the pontiff reinforced the apology and transcribed some passages of the speech.

One of the hosts of the event, Chief Randy Ermineskin of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, said it was a historic, important day for his people.

“My late family members are not here with us anymore, my parents went to residential school, I went to residential school,” he told The Associated Press as he waited for Francis to arrive. “I know they’re with me, they’re listening, they’re watching.”

More than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes and culture. The aim was to Christianize and assimilate them into mainstream society, which previous Canadian governments considered superior.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant at the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.

The discoveries of hundreds of potential burial sites at former schools in the past year drew international attention to the legacy of the schools in Canada and their counterparts in the United States.