Pope cites genocide of indigenous people in Canada after omitting term in apology

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Pope Francis used the word “genocide” on Saturday to describe what has happened in Catholic boarding schools for indigenous children in Canada over the decades.

The pontiff made the comment as he flew back to Rome after a week-long trip to the North American country, in which he made a historic apology for the church’s role in these episodes — but not to mention that it had been genocide.

Asked by an indigenous Canadian reporter who was on the plane why he didn’t use the word during the trip, Francis replied:

“It’s true that I didn’t use the word because it didn’t come to my mind, but I described a genocide. I apologized, I asked forgiveness for this process, which was a genocide.”

“I condemned all of this. Kidnapping, changing culture, changing mindsets, changing traditions, changing a race, let’s say, an entire culture. Yes, genocide is a technical word. I didn’t use it because I didn’t think about it. I described it, it’s truth, it is genocide,” he reiterated.

Between 1881 and 1996, more than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and taken to boarding schools in Canada. Many of them were starved, beaten and sexually abused in a system that the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide”.

During his visit, the pope asked on several occasions for “pardon” for the role played by “many Christians” in that system established by the governments of the time, but administered mainly by the Catholic Church.

Last Monday, Francis visited the town of Maskwacis, site of two former boarding schools, where he apologized and called the forced assimilation “an evil” and a “disastrous mistake”.

He also apologized for Christian support for the “colonizing mentality” of the time.

Fragile health and possibility of resignation

Affected by severe knee pain that forces him to get around in a wheelchair, the 85-year-old pope said he must reduce the pace of his travels, even mentioning the possibility of “putting himself aside”.

“I don’t believe I can keep the same pace of travel as before. I believe that at my age, and with these limits, I should save myself in order to serve the Church, or on the contrary, think about the possibility of putting myself aside”, he declared.

On a possible resignation, like his predecessor Benedict 16, the pope repeated this Saturday that the door is “open”.

“But until today I haven’t pushed that door. As they say, I haven’t felt it, to think about that possibility. But that doesn’t mean that the day after tomorrow I won’t start thinking.”

In 2014, Francis himself contributed to the possibility of a possible resignation, considering that Benedict 16 “opened a door” by resigning from office. But he denied rumors in early July that he might step down from his post because of his health problems.

During the six-day visit to Canada, his 37th international trip since his election in 2013, he was mostly in a wheelchair and appeared to be impaired. Even so, he greeted the crowd aboard the “popemobile.”

“This trip was a kind of test: it’s true that we can’t travel in this state, maybe we have to change the style a little”, he said, but he also said that “I would try to continue traveling, to be close to people, because it is a way of serve, of proximity”.

“In all honesty, it’s not a catastrophe. We can change the pope. It’s not a problem. But I think I have to limit myself a little, with these efforts,” he added.

Since the beginning of May, the Argentine has been using a wheelchair or a cane, weakened by pain in his right knee. To alleviate the suffering, he regularly receives injections and undergoes physical therapy sessions, according to the Vatican.

Francis’ health – who had part of a lung removed in his youth and suffers from chronic sciatica – had already fueled speculation during his colon operation in July 2021.

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