Pope arrives in Canada to apologize for church abuse at indigenous boarding schools

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Pope Francis arrived in Canada on Sunday (24) for a six-day trip during which he must apologize to indigenous peoples for abuses committed in boarding schools run by the Catholic Church. The script is called by the pontiff a “penitential pilgrimage”.

Approximately 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and forcibly enrolled in 139 boarding schools across the country during the late 19th century to the 1990s. Further investigation revealed that many of them were beaten and sexually abused by principals and teachers.

It is estimated that approximately 6,000 students died from illness, neglect and malnutrition.

The boarding system was subsidized by the state, but mainly administered by the Catholic Church. Before boarding, Pope Francis asked for prayers and said he hoped the trip would help in the institution’s reconciliation process with indigenous peoples, known as First Nations, a movement that, according to him, has already begun. “This is a penance trip. Let’s just say that’s your spirit.”

The pontiff landed in Edmonton, western Canada, starting the first of three legs of the trip. As he got off the plane, he was greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General and Representative of Queen Elizabeth II, Mary Simon. Francis rested on Sunday and is due to meet on Monday with members of indigenous peoples in Maskwacis, in the province of Alberta, about 100 km south of Edmonton. About 15,000 people are expected at the site to accompany the pontiff.

Afterwards, the pope must visit Quebec before departing for Iqaluit, a city in the arctic archipelago in the extreme north of Canada. He is due to return to the Vatican on Friday (29). Although for the purpose of reconciliation, the trip was also criticized. “It’s too late now, because so many people have suffered,” said Linda McGilvery, who spent eight years of her childhood at boarding school. For George Arcand Jr., head of the Six First Nations Treaty Confederation, the visit to Canada is historic and an important part of a “journey of healing”, but much remains to be done to repair victims and their families.

RoseAnne Archibald, head of First Nations, who also greeted the pope, criticized the one-way organization of the trip and the “archaic” nature of the church, citing that the institution has no women in leadership roles. A national commission of inquiry called the abuses at the boarding schools “cultural genocide”. Even today the indigenous people, who represent almost 5% of the total population of Canada, live mostly in poverty.

With more than ten hours of flight time, it is the longest trip made by the pope since 2019. Earlier this month, the 85-year-old pontiff canceled a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan due to a knee problem. which forced him to use a cane and a wheelchair.

Earlier, aboard the papal plane, the pontiff again said he looked forward to visiting Ukraine as part of efforts to end the five-month conflict on Sunday. On the 14th, the pope recommended zero tolerance in the case of child sexual abuse, when he publicly expressed his views on the cause that led a Brazilian delegation to the Vatican.

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