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Pope lands in Canada for apology tour to Indigenous groups for past physical and sexual abuses one year after nearly 200 bodies were found in mass grave at former Catholic school
Pope Francis is in Canada to apologize to indigenous groups for violent abuses their people suffered at Catholic-run schools in the 19th and 20th centuries Indigenous children in Canada were required to attend the schools as a part of forced assimilation program; thousands of the children died at them Soon after landing, the Pope met with several residential school survivors and their descendants
July 24, 2022
Pope Francis began a historic visit to Canada on Sunday to apologize to Indigenous peoples for abuses by missionaries at residential schools, one year after the bodies of nearly 200 students were found in a mass grave at a former school.
Francis kissed the hand of a residential school survivor as he was greeted at the Edmonton, Alberta, airport by Indigenous representatives, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, an Inuk who's Canada's first Indigenous governor general.
The gesture set the tone of what Francis said is a 'penitential pilgrimage' to atone for the role of Catholic missionaries in the forced assimilation of generations of Native children - a visit that has stirred mixed emotions across Canada as survivors and their families cope with the trauma of their losses and receive a long-sought papal apology.
The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse were rampant in the state-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s. Some 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes, Native languages and cultures and assimilate them into Canada's Christian society.
Indigenous groups are seeking more than just words, though, as they press for access to church archives to learn the fate of children who never returned home from the residential schools. They also want justice for the abusers, financial reparations and the return of Indigenous artifacts held by the Vatican Museums.
Francis exited the back of his plane with the help of an ambulift, given his strained knee ligaments have forced him to use a wheelchair. The simple welcome ceremony took place in airport hangar, where Indigenous drums and chanting broke the silence.
As Trudeau and Simon sat beside Francis, a succession of Indigenous leaders and elders greeted the pope and exchanged gifts. At one point, Francis kissed the hand of residential school survivor Elder Alma Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nations as she was introduced to him.
'Right now, many of our people are skeptical and they are hurt,' said Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, who greeted the pope. Yet he expressed hope that with the papal apology, 'We could begin our journey of healing .. and change the way things have been for our people for many, many years.'
Francis had no official events scheduled Sunday, giving him time to rest before his meeting Monday with survivors near the site of a former residential school in Maskwacis, where he is expected to pray at a cemetery and apologize.