IQALUIT, Nunavut — Pope Francis traveled to the far reaches of the Arctic on Friday to apologize to the Inuit people for the “evil” of Canada’s residential schools, concluding his week-long “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada with a a dramatic visit to the remote territory of Nunavut to meet survivors of the school.
Francis landed in Iqaluit, a population of 7,500, and was meeting with former elementary school students before delivering a speech to Inuit youth and elders.
Organizers have prepared dozens of mosquito masks with mesh face shields to protect against the mosquitoes that abound at this time of year in Nunavut’s mild temperatures. Most of the territory is part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, including its largest island, Baffin Island.
The visit capped an unusual papal tour designed specifically to apologize to generations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit for the abuses and injustices they have suffered, and to assure them that he is determined to help reconcile their relationship with the Catholic Church.
Before leaving Quebec City on Friday morning, Francis renewed his apologies to survivors in eastern Canada for Catholic missionaries who “supported oppressive and unjust policies” against them and vowed to seek truth and healing. From the late 1800s to the 1970s, more than 150,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in church-run boarding schools to cut them off from their culture and assimilate them into Canadian Christian society.
The Canadian government has said physical and sexual abuse is endemic in schools, and Francis on Thursday asked forgiveness for the “evil” of sexual abuse by clergy against young people and vulnerable people, promising an “irreversible commitment” to prevent this from happening again.
Francis, who was forced to use a wheelchair this trip due to ligament pain in his knee, said he hoped to make progress in finding the truth “so that healing and reconciliation processes can take place. carry on, and that the seeds of hope may remain to be sown for future generations – indigenous and non-indigenous – who desire to live together, in harmony, as brothers and sisters.”
“I have come in a spirit of penance, to express my deep pain at the wrong done to you by many Catholics who have supported oppressive and unjust policies towards you,” Francis told delegations in Quebec. “I have come as a pilgrim, despite my physical limitations, to take new steps with you and for you.”
Later Friday, Francis brought this message to Nunavut, a vast territory straddling the Arctic Circle. This is the farthest north the Argentine pope has travelled.
Nunavut is about the size of Alaska and California combined, with a majority Inuit population of around 40,000. The capital has a population of 7,500, about half of whom are Inuit.
The Inuit community is asking for the Vatican’s help to extradite an Oblate priest, the Reverend Joannes Rivoire, who ministered to Inuit communities until his departure in the 1990s and his return to France. Canadian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998 on charges of multiple counts of sexual abuse, but it was never served.
The Canadian government said this week that Canada had asked France to extradite Rivoire, but did not say when and did not provide further details.
Reaction to Francis’ visit was mixed, with even the Canadian government saying its apology didn’t go far enough in accepting blame for the institutional role played by the Catholic Church in supporting school policy.
Some school survivors accepted his apology as genuine and helpful to their trauma healing process. Others found he was still missing, furious that it took the discovery of alleged unmarked graves outside some boarding schools for the pope to apologize after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015 specifically called for a papal apology to be delivered on Canadian soil.
Still others called on the church to do more, including providing additional information about the fate of children who never returned from school and repudiating 15th-century papal bulls that informed the so -so-called “doctrine of discovery” that legitimized colonial-era seizure. native lands with the aim of spreading Christianity.
“There were omissions in Pope Francis’ apology. No mention of ownership of the role of the Catholic Church, only of Christians,” boarding school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz posted on Facebook. “No mention of the release of residential school documents. No mention of revoking the Doctrine of Discovery. No mention of changing rules or policies to help clergy survivors seek justice against their clergy predators. More d action is needed.”
It is unlikely that the Vatican itself has records regarding the fate of indigenous children who died in schools, although it does have records of all priests who faced canonical sanctions after 2001, and possibly some before that date. If the records exist, they would likely be in the archives of individual religious orders, including the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 of the 139 Christian boarding schools.
Gillies reported from Quebec.
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