Pope Francis with representatives of Canadian First Nations

By Benedetta Capelli

Apr 1 2022

Pope Francis receives a group of about 20 representatives of Canada’s First Nations peoples Thursday morning, having previously met with representatives of the Inuit and Métis peoples. On Friday, the Holy Father will receive all three groups together in a public audience.

An “atmosphere of listening and closeness” marked the meeting Thursday morning between Pope Francis and a group of some 20 delegates of Canada’s First Nations peoples, who were accompanied by several Canadian bishops. It was the Pope’s third visit with delegations of indigenous Canadians, having met earlier this week with representatives of the Mètis and Inuit peoples in separate audiences. On Friday, the Holy Father will meet with all three groups together for a public audience in which the Pope is expected to address the delegates.

Following the meeting on Thursday, First Nations delegates dressed in traditional attire met with members of the press outside St Peter’s Square to talk about their experience. “It’s a special day,” said Regional Chief Gerald Antonie, the delegation lead, noting that Pope Francis had listened attentively to their words. “The things that happened to us should never have ever happened…” he continued, adding “We’re here to tell you the truth.” His words were also marked by pain for the past, for the abuses that took place, for the many victims of the so-called residential schools.

The issue of the residential school system – a scheme for the forceable integration of indigenous children into Canadian culture by separating them from their families and communities and placing them in boarding schools – came to renewed prominence last summer with the discovery of mass graves at the locations of several of the schools. The system was organized by the Canadian government and implemented in cooperation with Christian churches, with a substantial number of schools operated by the Catholic Church.

Hence the need to proceed along a path of reconciliation and forgiveness, which was marked last June after the Canadian bishops’ “mea culpa” immediately following the discovery of a mass grave at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Chief Antoine also recalled the special relationship with “Mother Earth,” saying “Mother Earth is our home.” He said it is necessary to hear the voices of indigenous people, who can speak the truth about the earth, which must be protected. So, he continued, we must all “work together because we don’t have much time left.”

“It is never too late”

Earlier this week, Pope Francis had received representatives of the original Métis and Inuit peoples, in separate audiences. In their meeting with the press on Monday, delegates reiterated the need for “truth, justice, healing, and reconciliation.” Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron insisted, “While the time for acknowledgement, apology and atonement is long overdue, it is never too late to do the right thing.”

From the Inuit delegation, Martha Greig, a survivor of the residential schools, said she told the Pope that people need healing. She said, “I invited him to come to Canada,” adding, “it would mean a lot to the former residents and their families.” A papal trip has been announced but not yet confirmed. -Vatican News