By Deborah Castellano Lubov

July 28 2022

Addressing authorities, diplomats and indigenous in Quebec, Pope Francis decries the “deplorable system” of historic residential schools in Canada, calling it a tragic example of ‘cancel culture,’ and calls for concretely “promoting the legitimate rights of the indigenous populations and to favour processes of healing and reconciliation between them and the non-indigenous people of the country.”

Pope Francis has decried the historic “deplorable system” of residential schools in Canada, calling it a tragic example of ‘cancel culture,’ and has called for “promoting the legitimate rights of the native populations and to favour processes of healing and reconciliation between them and the non-indigenous people of the country.”  

The Holy Father made these strong remarks in his meeting with civil authorities, representatives of Indigenous Peoples and members of the diplomatic corps in Quebec City, marking his first public discourse since arriving in Quebec.

The Pope is making a ‘penitential pilgrimage’ to Canada, 24-30 July, which is dedicated to healing, embracing and reconciling with Indigenous Peoples who suffered mistreatment and abuse across the centuries, as colonial powers, including many Christians, were involved in, or complicit, in attempts to erase their culture and identity.

This marks Pope Francis’ 37th Apostolic Visit abroad.

On the first leg of the Pope’s pilgrimage, in Edmonton, Pope Francis profusely apologized for the ‘catastrophic’ errors of the past, with the residential schools system, and called for an investigation to learn how to prevent such tragedies from ever occurring again.

‘Deplorable system’ of residential schools

In the Pope’s meeting with authorities and indigenous on Wednesday in Quebec City, he thanked first Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon and then His Excellency Justin Trudeau for their kind words of welcome, and spoke about the “extraordinary natural heritage” of the country and its vast beauty.

Pope Francis recalled Canada’s national symbol of the maple leaf, as an occasion to observe that the “large size of the maple leaves, which absorb polluted air and in turn give out oxygen, invite us to marvel at the beauty of creation and to appreciate the wholesome values present in the indigenous cultures.”

During the Pope’s week in Canada, where he has shared several powerful moments with indigenous peoples in Edmonton, he expressed commitment to help them.

“The Holy See and the local Catholic communities are concretely committed to promoting the indigenous cultures through specific and appropriate forms of spiritual accompaniment that include attention to their cultural traditions, customs, languages and educational processes, in the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”  

He decried the harms done to erase their culture.

“I think above all of the policies of assimilation and enfranchisement, also involving the residential school system, which harmed many indigenous families by undermining their language, culture and worldview.  In that deplorable system, promoted by the governmental authorities of the time, which separated many children from their families, different local Catholic institutions had a part.”

Renewed request for forgiveness

The Pope who made a sincere apology to the indigenous in Edmonton, did not shy away from doing the same in Quebec.

“I express my deep shame and sorrow, and, together with the bishops of this country, I renew my request for forgiveness for the wrong done by so many Christians to the indigenous peoples.  It is tragic when some believers, as happened in that period of history, conform themselves to the conventions of the world rather than to the Gospel. “

The Christian faith, he recognized, has played an essential role in shaping the highest ideals of Canada, characterized by the desire to build a better country for all its people. 

“At the same time,” he continued, “it is necessary, in admitting our faults, to work together to accomplish a goal that I know all of you share: to promote the legitimate rights of the native populations and to favour processes of healing and reconciliation between them and the non-indigenous people of the country.”  

This, he said, is reflected in the commitment to respond in a fitting way to the appeals of the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, as well as in the concern to acknowledge the rights of the native peoples.

Holy See committed to concretely promoting rights of indigenous

The Pope reiterated that the Holy See and the local Catholic communities wish to concretely promote the indigenous peoples’ rights.

“It is our desire to renew the relationship between the Church and the indigenous peoples of Canada, a relationship marked both by a love that has borne outstanding fruit and, tragically, deep wounds that we are committed to understanding and healing,” he said.

Expressing gratitude for his five encounters in the Vatican to listen to representatives of the indigenous peoples, the Pope said he was happy to renew the good relations now in Canada.

“The time we spent together made an impression on me and left a firm desire to respond to the indignation and shame for the sufferings endured by the indigenous peoples, and to move forward on a fraternal and patient journey with all Canadians, in accordance with truth and justice, working for healing and reconciliation, and constantly inspired by hope,” he said.

Healing takes time

“That history of suffering and contempt, the fruit of the colonizing mentality,” the Pope observed, “does not heal easily.”

In addition to this apology and this denouncing of the wrongdoings done to Indigenous, the Pope called for multilateralism.

“Multiculturalism is fundamental for the cohesiveness of a society as diverse as the dappled colours of the foliage of the maple trees,” he said.

Acknowledging that inclusion of new arrivals can be a challenge and requires accepting and embracing differences, the Pope applauded Canada for the generosity shown in accepting many Ukrainian and Afghan migrants. 

He urged for moving beyond “the rhetoric of fear with regard to immigrants and to give them, according to the possibilities of the country, the concrete opportunity to become involved responsibly in society. ” 

For this to happen, he said, “rights and democracy are indispensable.”

The Catholic Church, he noted, “with its universal dimension, its concern for the most vulnerable, its rightful service to human life at every moment of its existence, from conception to natural death, is happy to offer its specific contribution.”

Must work to stop, not pursue wars

The Holy Father also reflected on war in the world, as the war wages on in Ukraine and several wars, often forgotten, take place globally.

“We have no need to divide the world into friends and enemies, to create distances and once again to arm ourselves to the teeth,” the Pope said, noting, “an arms race and strategies of deterrence will not bring peace and security.”

“We need to ask ourselves not how to pursue wars, but how to stop them,” he appealed, calling for “creative and farsighted policies capable of moving beyond the categories of opposition in order to provide answers to global challenges.”

Working hand in hand on global challenges

“The great challenges of our day, like peace, climate change, the effects of the pandemic and international migration movements, all have one thing in common: they are global; they regard everyone, the Pope said, noting that “since all of them speak of the need to consider the whole, politics cannot remain imprisoned in partisan interests.” 

The Pope urged all forces to work “in common accord, hand in hand” to face today’s pressing challenges.  

Pope Francis concluded by thanking Canada and those before him for their hospitality, attention and respect.

“With great affection, I assure you that Canada and its people are truly close to my heart.”

Vatican News