UPDATED: Pope, winding up Canada trip, visits historic churches

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QUEBEC CITY, July 28 (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Thursday visits two of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in North America as he winds up a trip to Canada centred on his apology for the Catholic Church’s role in the country’s notorious residential schools.

In the morning Francis presides at a Mass at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre in the town of the same name about 30 km (19 miles) outside Quebec City.

The oldest Catholic pilgrimage site in North America stands on the site where a small church was built in 1658 to house a statue of St. Anne that French colonists considered miraculous.

About a million people visit each year, many seeking cures from illnesses.

In the afternoon, he presides at a vespers service in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Quebec City. It stands on the site where Samuel de Champlain, the French colonist and navigator who founded Quebec and New France, built a chapel in 1633.

The visits to the two churches come on the penultimate day of his week-long visit to Canada, where he has several times issued apologies related to the schools, which operated between 1870 and 1996.

Shortly after his arrival in Quebec City on Wednesday, Francis met with Canada’s leader, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon.

In public addresses in the Citadelle de Quebec, the largest British fortress built in North America, Trudeau and Simon

pointedly told him of the horrors of residential schools for indigenous that the Church ran for past governments.

More than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools. They were starved or beaten for speaking their native languages and sexually abused in a system that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide”.

“As a dad, I can’t imagine having my children being taken away. When my kids are crying, I can console them. When they’re happy, I can share that feeling of joy with them,” Trudeau said.

“But in residential schools, these children were alone and isolated in their pain and sorrow, far from their families and communities. And even worse, stripped of their language, their culture, their identity,” the prime minister said.

The pope said the Church was “admitting our faults” and wanted to join civil authorities “to promote the legitimate rights of the native populations and to favor processes of healing and reconciliation” between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians.

On Monday, the pope traveled to the town of Maskwacis, the site of two former schools, and issued a historic apology that called the Church’s role in the schools, and the forced cultural assimilation they attempted, a “deplorable evil” and “disastrous error”.

On Tuesday, he said the Roman Catholic Church should accept institutional blame for the harm done to indigenous Canadians.

On his way back to Rome on Friday, he will stop for a few hours in Iqaluit in the Canadian Arctic, where the pope is expected to discuss the threat that climate change poses to indigenous communities.


Pope’s apology in Canada falls short for some indigenous survivors

A historic apology by Pope Francis to survivors of residential schools in Canada evoked strong emotions for many as the pontiff begged for forgiveness but fell short of what some survivors and indigenous leaders had hoped for.

Greeted with drumming and dancing on First Nations soil, the pope on Monday said he was “deeply sorry” for the “deplorable evil” and “disastrous error” of “cultural destruction and forced assimilation,” drawing cheers from the largely indigenous crowd.

But some survivors said the apology was disappointing because it failed to mention sexual abuses committed at the schools and did not outline concrete action to follow the words.

“I was hoping that he would be more specific in his apology, especially when he talks about the atrocities that the churches did on our people. And he didn’t use the word ‘sexual abuse.’ That was one thing that really struck me,” said Ruth Roulette, a residential school survivor who watched from home.

“That’s what happened in there. I know that.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (2-R) and Canadian Governor General Mary Simon (not pictured) receive Pope Francis (R) at the Citadel of Quebec City, Canada, 27 July 2022. The five-day visit by Pope Francis is the first papal visit to Canada in 20 years. EPA-EFE/Ciro Fusco

The pope also upset some by not mentioning the 15th-century doctrine of discovery that justified taking indigenous land.

“Repudiate the doctrine of discovery! Renounce the papal bulls!” Kukpi7 (Chief) Judy Wilson of Neskonlith Indian Band in British Columbia shouted at the pope after his speech on Monday.

In addition to the formal rescinding of edicts, indigenous leaders have sought financial compensation, help in bringing alleged abusers to justice, the return of artifacts from the Vatican museum and the release of school records.

With two days left in the pope’s six-day Canadian tour, indigenous leaders and analysts are waiting to see whether pledges on those issues materialize before he returns home.

“An apology does not ease the pain of lost children who never returned home,” said Cornell McLean, acting Grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba chiefs. “However, we encourage the church to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation by making concrete commitments and true reparations going forward.”

Over more than a century, Canada separated more than 150,000 indigenous children from their families and brought them to largely church-run residential schools where many were starved, beaten and sexually abused.

Some never returned home, a reality brought to the fore by the discoveries of more than 1,000 suspected unmarked graves at or near the sites of former residential schools last year.


A day after the pope’s speech, Murray Sinclair, who chaired Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that spent six years investigating residential schools, criticized the pope’s apology, saying it placed blame on individual members rather than acknowledging the full role of the church.

Those comments came before the pope on Tuesday said the Roman Catholic Church should accept institutional blame for the harm done to indigenous children in residential schools, saying the Church needed healing from “defending the institution rather than seeking the truth.”

Metis Nation President Cassidy Caron called Monday’s speech one of many “stepping stones toward reconciliation” — echoing the sentiments of many who felt the apology needed to be followed by more action.

The pope on Monday also called for a “serious investigation” into what happened at the residential schools, without offering details.

University of Ottawa religion historian Emma Anderson, who focuses on indigenous encounters with Christianity, said the reference to the investigation was “one of the more puzzling aspects” of the speech given Canada already had the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The remark could mean a release of church records related to the schools, Anderson said, a key demand of indigenous survivors.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that while he could not speak for the pope, his organization had pledged to provide documents related to those “buried in unmarked graves.”

Henry Pitawanakwat, one of 22 interpreters sitting in a control room on Monday translating the pope’s speech into 12 indigenous languages, says he felt the words lacked action.

“An apology doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said, recalling his mother’s trauma from her residential school experience.

“It’s just another word in the English language unless it is supported by some kind of action, like funding to help us support our language and culture.”

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