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Pope set for historic apology for Indigenous school abuses in Canada

Thousands of indigenous people gathered Monday in the small Alberta prairie community of Maskwacis to hear a long-awaited apology from Pope Francis for generations of abuse and cultural repression in Catholic residential schools across Canada. Francis was scheduled to arrive mid-morning at the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School, now largely demolished. He planned to stop at the sites of the former school and the nearby cemetery before speaking in a large open area to school survivors, their relatives and other supporters. Francis arrived Sunday in Edmonton, where he was greeted by representatives of Canada’s three main Indigenous groups — First Nations, Métis and Inuit — along with political and church officials. At the welcoming ceremony, Francis kissed the hand of a home school survivor, Elder Alma Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nations, a gesture of humility and respect used in the past when meeting with Holocaust survivors. The Pope spent the rest of Sunday at a seminar in Edmonton, Alberta’s capital. The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in government-funded Christian schools that ran from the 19th century to the 1970s. About 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend them in an effort to isolate themselves from the influence of their homes, native languages ​​and cultures and assimilate them into the Christian society of Canada. Francis’ six-day trip — which will also include other sites in Alberta, Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north — follows meetings he held this spring at the Vatican with First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegations . Those meetings culminated in a historic apology on April 1 for the “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools. Thousands of children died from disease, fires and other causes. The discoveries of hundreds of possible burial sites in former schools over the past year have drawn international heritage attention to the heritage of schools in Canada and their counterparts in the United States. Francis is now following through on his commitment to make that apology on Canadian soil .Maskwacis, about an hour south of Edmonton, is the center of four nations of Cree. Event organizers said they will do everything possible to ensure survivors can attend the event. Many will travel from parking lots, and organizers recognize that many survivors are elderly and will need accessible vehicles, diabetes-friendly snacks and other amenities. Catholics operated most Canadian schools, while various Protestant denominations operated others in cooperation with the government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year apologized for the “incredibly harmful government policy” in organizing the residential school system, will also attend the event. Maskwacis along with other government officials. In Maskwacis, the former school where Francis visited has been replaced with a school system operated by the four local Cree nations. The curriculum affirms indigenous culture that was once suppressed. Chief Greg Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nation in northern Alberta, a survivor of the school, said after the pope’s arrival Sunday that there are “mixed emotions in this country” during his visit. Think today of the young people who failed to return home and are buried around residential schools,” he told a press conference after the welcome ceremony at the airport. But he expressed optimism that the visit might begin to bring reconciliation. “I know when two people have apologized, we feel better,” he said. “But our people have been through a lot… Our people have been hurt. Some of them have not been able to return home. Now I hope the world will see why our people are so hurt.” On Monday afternoon, Francis is scheduled to visit the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, a Catholic parish in Edmonton that is oriented toward indigenous peoples and culture. The church, whose sanctuary was dedicated last week after being restored from a fire, incorporates indigenous language and customs into the service. “Never in my life did I think I would see a pope here at Sacred Heart Church,” Fernie said. Marty, who holds the title of church elder. “And now we have that chance.” When Francis visits, the church will display the clothes, bread and other supplies it regularly provides to the needy, including many of Edmonton’s estimated population of 75,000. The visit will be an “encounter” that will help “people know what we are, who we are,” said his pastor, the Rev. Jesu Susai.___Associated Press reporters Nicole Winfield in Edmonton and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed in this report.___Associated Press religion coverage is supported through AP’s partnership with The Conversation US with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

Thousands of indigenous people gathered Monday in the small Alberta prairie community of Maskwacis to hear a long-awaited apology from Pope Francis for generations of abuse and cultural repression in Catholic residential schools across Canada.

Francis was scheduled to arrive mid-morning at the site of the former Ermineskin Indian School, now largely demolished. He planned to stop at the sites of the former school and the nearby cemetery before speaking in a large open space to school survivors, their relatives and other supporters.

Francis arrived Sunday in Edmonton, where he was greeted by representatives of Canada’s three main Indigenous groups — First Nations, Métis and Inuit — along with political and church officials. At the welcoming ceremony, Francis kissed the hand of a home school survivor, Elder Alma Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nations, a gesture of humility and respect used in the past when meeting with Holocaust survivors.

The Pope spent the rest of Sunday resting at a seminary in Edmonton, Alberta’s capital.

Gregorio Borgia / AP Photo

Pope Francis meets Indigenous Canadians upon arrival at Edmonton International Airport, Canada, Sunday, July 24, 2022.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in government-funded Christian schools that ran from the 19th century to the 1970s. About 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 the Christian society of Canada.

Francis’ six-day trip — which will also include other sites in Alberta, Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the north — follows meetings he held this spring at the Vatican with First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegations . These meetings culminated in a historic apology on April 1 for the “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.

Thousands of children died from disease, fires and other causes. The discoveries of hundreds of potential burial sites at former schools in the past year have drawn international attention to the legacy of schools in Canada and their counterparts in the United States.

Francis is now following through on his commitment to make that apology on Canadian soil.

Maskwacis, about an hour south of Edmonton, is the center of four Cree nations.

Event organizers said they will do everything possible to ensure survivors can attend the event. Many will travel from parking lots, and organizers recognize that many survivors are elderly and will need accessible vehicles, diabetic-friendly snacks and other amenities.

Catholics operated the majority of Canadian schools, while various Protestant denominations operated others in cooperation with the government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year apologized for the “incredibly damaging government policy” in organizing the residential school system, will also attend the Maskwacis event along with other government officials.

In Maskwacis, the former school where Francis attends has been replaced with a school system run by the four local Cree nations. The curriculum affirms indigenous culture that was once suppressed.

Chief Greg Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nation in northern Alberta, a survivor of the school, said after the pope’s arrival Sunday that there are “mixed feelings in this country” about his visit.

“I am thinking today of the young people who failed to return home and are buried around residential schools,” he told a news conference after the welcome ceremony at the airport. But he expressed optimism that the visit could begin to bring about reconciliation.

“I know when two people have apologized, we feel better,” he said. “But our people have been through a lot… Our people have been hurt. Some of them have not been able to return home. Now I hope the world will see why our people are so hurt.”

On Monday afternoon, Francis is scheduled to visit the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, a Catholic parish in Edmonton that is oriented toward indigenous peoples and culture. The church, whose sanctuary was dedicated last week after being rebuilt from a fire, incorporates indigenous language and customs into the service.

“Never in my life did I think I would see a pope here at Sacred Heart Church,” said Fernie Marty, who holds the title of church elder. “And now we have that chance.”

When Francis visits, the church will display the clothing, bread and other supplies it regularly provides to the needy, including many of Edmonton’s estimated urban population of 75,000.

The visit will be a “meeting” that will help “people know what we are, who we are,” said her pastor, Rev. Jesu Susai.

___

Associated Press reporters Nicole Winfield in Edmonton and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

___

Associated Press religion coverage is supported through AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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