Island tour

Pope heads to Nunavut to apologize at end of Canadian tour

IQALUIT, Nunavut (AP) — 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 the Canada with a spectacular visit to the remote territory of Nunavut to meet survivors of the school.

Francis landed in Iqaluit, a population of 7,500, and met with former elementary school students to hear firsthand their experiences of being torn from their families and forced to attend boarding schools run by the church and government funded. The goal of the policy, which was in effect from the late 1800s through the 1970s, was to separate children from their Indigenous cultures and assimilate them into Canadian Christian society.

“How wrong it is to break the ties that unite parents and children, to damage our closest relationships, to harm and scandalize the little ones!” Francis recounted a gathering of Inuit youth and elders outside the school.

He thanked the school’s survivors for their courage in sharing their suffering, which he had first heard last spring when delegations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit traveled to the Vatican to ask for apologies.

“It only renewed in me the outrage and shame I had felt for months,” Francis said. “I want to tell you how sorry I am and ask forgiveness for the wrong done by many Catholics who have contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation and emancipation in these schools.”

Before his address, the pope — seated in a chair covered in sealskin — watched Inuit throat singers and dancers perform. During his speech, he said “I’m sorry” in Inuktitut, the Inuit language, to cheers. And he ended by saying “thank you” in Inuktitut.

The events lasted much longer than expected; the pope’s plane took off for Rome about 90 minutes late.

The visit capped an unusual tour designed specifically to give the Pope the opportunity to apologize to generations of Indigenous people for the abuses and injustices they have suffered and to assure them of his commitment to them. help reconcile their relationship with the Catholic Church. After stops in Edmonton, Alberta and Quebec, Francis ended his pilgrimage in Nunavut, a vast territory straddling the Arctic Circle that represents the farthest north the Argentine pope has ever travelled.

Prior to his arrival, organizers prepared dozens of hats with mesh face shields to protect against mosquitoes that sometimes abound in the balmy summer temperatures of Iqaluit, about 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

The Canadian government has said physical and sexual abuse is rampant in residential schools, and Francis on Thursday asked forgiveness for the “evil” of clergy sexual abuse, vowing an “irreversible commitment” to prevent it from happening again. His wish came after he omitted a reference to sexual abuse in his initial apology this week, upsetting some survivors and winning a lawsuit from the Canadian government.

Francis’ apology received a mixed response, with some survivors at the school welcoming it as helpful to their healing and others saying there is still more to be done to right past wrongs and seek justice. Several protesters appeared at the main event in Iqaluit with signs making demands of this nature.

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 it had asked France to extradite Rivoire, but did not say when. Rivoire has denied any wrongdoing.

Francis heard from survivors in a private meeting, including a woman whose daughter died at a boarding school; the wife and her husband have been searching for her grave for years. Another speaker was the daughter of one of Rivoire’s victims, who died after years of alcohol abuse, said Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for clergy abuse victims who fought for years to translate Rivoire. in justice.

The Inuit warmly welcomed Francis to their homeland and lit a ceremonial lamp, or qulliq, for the occasion.

Francis referred to its symbolic meaning in his remarks, saying it dispels darkness and brings warmth.

“We are here with the desire to continue together on a journey of healing and reconciliation which, with the help of the Creator, can help us shed light on what happened and move beyond this dark past. “, Francis said.

Addressing the younger generations, Francis also urged them to choose light over darkness, to keep hope, to aim high and to protect the environment. He underscored the value of teamwork, recalling the successes of Canada’s beloved national sport, ice hockey.

Jimmy Lucassi, an Inuk from Iqaluit, was on the school grounds when Francis visited with his wife and children. “It probably means a lot to a lot of people,” he said. “That’s all we talked about. They closed the stores to celebrate.

The trip was the first on which the 85-year-old pope has been forced to use a wheelchair, walker and cane due to knee ligament pain that forced him to cancel a trip to Africa earlier this month. month. Even with a reduced schedule, the trip was clearly uncomfortable for Francis and he said he felt “limited” by his inability to move freely as he pleased.

Future travel is unclear. Francis said he wanted to visit Kyiv, Ukraine, but no trip is on the horizon anytime soon. He is also expected in Kazakhstan in mid-September for an interreligious meeting which could be an opportunity to meet the Russian patriarch Cyril, who justified the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Reaction to Francis’ visit to Canada was mixed, with even the government saying its apology did not 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 have called on the church to provide additional information on the fate of children who never returned from school and to repudiate the 15th-century papal bulls that informed the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery.” which legitimized the colonial-era seizure of Indigenous lands for the purpose of spreading Christianity.

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 of the children exist, they would likely be in the archives of individual religious orders.


Gillies reported from Quebec.


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