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TORONTO – As Pope Francis could visit Canada amid calls for him to apologize for Catholic Church’s role in residential schools, Indigenous leaders say his visit must be “more than a gesture In order to have an impact on reconciliation.

The Vatican said in a statement Wednesday that Pope Francis was prepared to visit Canada, after the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops invited him in “the context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples.” .

The press release indicates that the Pope has indicated his “willingness” to do so at an undetermined date.

Asking the Pope to apologize for the role of the Catholic Church is one of 94 calls to action launched by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), described in 2015.

Pam Palmater, chair of Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, told CTV News Channel on Wednesday that it’s not enough for Pope Francis to just visit Canada.

“The TRC was very specific not only to come here, but also to apologize, provide all the funds needed to do the whole memorial and identify these anonymous graves, to compensate the victims as well… so it’s much more than a simple visit to have a real impact on reconciliation, ”said Palmater.

Palmater said Pope Francis must also issue a “very determined and intentional” apology. She said the Pope should take “full acceptance of responsibility” for the role of the Catholic Church in running Canada’s residential schools and specifically apologize for “the horrific genocide and abuses that occurred in these schools “.

The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996, with more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children forced to attend the institutions between the 1870s and 1996, according to the TRC.

The facilities were designed to strip indigenous peoples of their culture and language and replace them with a Christian faith and the English language. There were 139 residential schools in the federally funded program, several of which were run by the Catholic Church.

The TRC’s final report estimates that 6,000 children died while attending schools, although many say the number could reach 15,000.

As advocates and survivors have continued to press for the Vatican to issue a formal apology for the role of the Catholic Church in running many of these government-funded and Church-run institutions, this has been in vain.

There was also no mention of the Pope’s apology in the Vatican statement on Wednesday.

However, Rose LeMay, CEO of Indigenous Reconciliation Group, expects an apology from the Pope in the future, possibly during his potential visit to Canada.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t enlist before he came here, [but] I’m not too worried about it. I don’t think the Catholic Church can walk away from a visit to Canada without apologizing. I really don’t see that as a reasonable result, ”LeMay told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

While a papal apology can occur, LeMay said there is no guarantee that all First Nations, Inuit and Métis will accept it. She said the Catholic Church must offer more than just words in order to reconcile with these groups, including compensating survivors and families of the victims, releasing church documents related to residential schools and restitution. indigenous lands.

Despite this, LeMay says that a possible visit by the Pope is a “good step forward” on the road to healing Indigenous peoples.

“For the people who are looking forward to it, this will be a day that they mark in the same way as the apology from the Canadian government,” she said. “It will be a great day for a number of survivors and for a number of families and communities.”

However, LeMay noted that not everyone will feel this and the response will be “mixed”. She said Pope Francis could do more harm and re-traumatize Indigenous peoples if he comes to Canada and, in fact, does not apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools.

“There will be survivors who are still working on their healing [and] it can be a trigger, there can be anger involved, there is a whole bunch of emotions and they’re all part of the process of working through that, ”LeMay said.

Lynne Groulx, CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, told that she is “cautiously optimistic” that the Pope will keep his word and follow up on this visit to Canada.

“We are optimistic that the Pope will finally present the long-awaited apology for the role the Catholic Church played in the devastating experience of assimilation and genocide that has been waged for more than a century in Indian residential schools in Canada. Canada. on several occasions, for this visit and for these apologies. If they happen, they will be important steps towards reconciliation, ”Groulx said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chief Roseanne Archibald said on Twitter that she would welcome Pope Francis upon his arrival in Canada to “offer a long overdue apology to survivors and descendants,” but added that the He Catholic Church must also do more for indigenous peoples.

“I continue to call for the Catholic Church to be responsible for its role in the forced assimilation and #genocide of our children, families and nations. Someone has to be criminally charged. Also, that the repairs be made to the First Nations, ”Archibald said in a statement. series of tweets.

“I believe we need to walk the #HealingPathForward together,” she added.

In response to the Vatican announcement on Wednesday, Canadian Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said he expected the Pontiff “to fully recognize the harm done to Indigenous peoples.”

“In the grand scheme of what we call the reconciliation of Indigenous peoples, this full recognition is something long awaited from the Holy Father himself,” Miller said.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press


The Residential School Health Support Program has a hotline to assist residential school survivors and their loved ones with trauma from recalling past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.


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