Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous delegates for residential schools

The Canadian Press • Apr. 1, 2022

‘I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry’

Members of the Assembly of First Nations perform in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Thursday, March 31, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alessandra Tarantino

Pope Francis has apologized for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools, a year after the Catholic Church said it wouldn’t do so.

The Pontiff, speaking in Italian, asked for God’s forgiveness for the deplorable conduct of members of the Catholic Church.

“I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry,” Francis said, during a final meeting with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates at the Vatican.

“And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops in asking your pardon.”

Francis also said he will come to Canada.

Each of the groups had told the Pope in meetings earlier this week that they hoped he would apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the institutions in Canada. A date has not been set for the trip, but delegates said it could be as soon as this summer.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools and more than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Around 190 people, including delegates, family and supporters, gathered to share spiritual practices and hear the Pope’s words during the final address.

Elder Fred Kelly prayed for the children who went to residential schools and healing in the future. Marty Angotealuk and Lizzie Angotealuk sang “Our Father” in Inuktitut and Métis Emile Janvier prayed in Dene.

Some members had expressed their apprehension and anxiety prior to the final meeting with the Pope because they were unsure they’d get the apology they had worked so hard for.

Phil Fontaine, a former national chief with the Assembly of First Nations, has said it was the right time for an apology.

Fontaine said earlier this week that the pressure on the church is immense after the discovery of unmarked graves at former sites of residential schools across Canada.

“The eyes of the world were upon us here,” he said Thursday after First Nations delegates met with the Pope.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2022.

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