Pope Francis apologized Monday for the Catholic Church’s involvement with Canada’s past Indigenous residential schools, which forced Native people to assimilate into Christian society.
“I am deeply sorry,” Francis said this week at a former residential school in Alberta. “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.”
According to the Associated Press, Francis called the policy a “disastrous error” and made stops at four Cree nations as part of a “penitential pilgrimage” to pray at cemeteries and then deliver the historic apologies.
At the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School, four chiefs presented the pope with a feathered headdress, a gift that made him an honorary leader of the community.
Under the policy, more than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend government-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s. The schools wanted to convert the children to Christianity and assimilate them into society.
Ottawa has admitted that the schools were plagued with physical and sexual abuse that contributed to the epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction on Canadian reservations. Catholic religious orders operated 66 of Canada’s 139 residential schools.
Also, researchers found hundreds of burial sites at the former schools, drawing more criticism of the school’s history and policies.
Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for the “incredibly harmful government policy.” Trudeau was also at the pope’s appearance this week.
“I’ve waited 50 years for this apology, and finally, today, I heard it,” said survivor Evelyn Korkmaz. “Part of me is rejoiced, part of me is sad, part of me is numb.”
She said she hopes the government and Catholic church will next work to release the files on those children who died at the schools.
A lawsuit that involves the government, churches and some 90,000 survivors resulted in Canada paying billions of dollars in reparations to Indigenous communities. Canada’s Catholic church says its churches have provided more than $50 million to those communities. Churches are hoping to earmark another $30 million for reparations.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Cole Burston/Stringer
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.