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Canada’s Indigenous people press Pope Francis for apology

Pope Francis on Monday heard first-hand the horrors of abuse committed at church-run residential schools in Canada, as Indigenous delegations pressed him for an apology.

This photo taken and handout on March 28, 2022 by The Vatican Media shows Pope Francis (C) posing with Canada’s Metis National Council President, Cassidy Caron (6thR), Interim President of the Fraser Valley Metis Association (FVMA), Pixie Wells (4thR), president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) Raymond Poisson (5thL) and delegation members in The Vatican, as part of a series of a week-long meetings of Canada’s Indigenous elders, leaders, survivors and youth at the Vatican. (Photo by Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP) /

Pope Francis on Monday heard first-hand the horrors of abuse committed at church-run residential schools in Canada, as Indigenous delegations pressed him for an apology.

Indigenous, Metis and Inuit survivors are visiting the Vatican this week for meetings with the pope about the scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church.

More than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered since last May at church-run schools attended by Canada’s Indigenous children as part of a government policy of forced assimilation.

“The pope listened… (he) heard just three of the many stories we have to share,” Cassidy Caron, president of the Metis National Council, told journalists in front of St Peter’s Square.

Francis also held a private audience with representatives of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

The 85-year-old pontiff is scheduled to receive a delegation from the Assembly of First Nations on Thursday, before a final group meeting on Friday.

The Catholic Church in Canada has apologised “unequivocally” to Canada’s Indigenous peoples for a century of abuses at church-run residential schools.

Francis has also expressed his “pain” at the scandal — but has not gone so far as to offer an apology himself.

“We really truly hoped that… (at) this meeting today, that the pope would listen… and hopefully bring an apology when he does arrive in Canada,” Caron said.

According to Canadian bishops, Francis has indicated a willingness to visit Canada, though no date has yet been set.

Caron said the pope had echoed the Metis’ request for “truth, justice and healing”, saying she took that as a sign of “a personal commitment”.

Some 150,000 Indigenous, Metis and Inuit children were enrolled from the late 1800s to the 1990s in 139 of the residential schools across Canada, spending months or years isolated from their families, language and culture.

Many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.

A truth and reconciliation commission concluded in 2015 the failed government policy amounted to “cultural genocide.”

The 32 delegates visiting the Vatican say an apology from Francis in Canada would be “an important step” in the healing process.

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