Pope Francis again asks for forgiveness for abuses in Canada and highlights environmental concerns in the Arctic

Elder Piita Irniq and young drum dancer Malachai Angulalik Mala present Pope Francis with a traditional drum during a meeting with youth and elders outside the elementary school in Iqaluit, in the Canadian territory of ‘Iqaluit, Nunavut, July 29. It was the last day of the Pope’s week-long visit to Canada, where he met with indigenous peoples and apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools. (SNC/Paul Haring)

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Pope Francis concluded the last day of his week-long “penitential pilgrimage” across Canada on July 29 in one of the most remote places he has visited since his election as pope in 2013. He apologized again for the abuses suffered by Indigenous peoples in residential schools run by the Catholic Church. , and used its Arctic location to highlight environmental concerns.

“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” in these schools, the pope said here in the capital of the territory of Nunavut. .

In Iqaluit — with a population of less than 7,500 and no paved roads — the pope again encountered survivors of residential schools, which for nearly a century forcibly stripped many Indigenous cultures and customs, including the Inuktitut language. .

The pope paid tribute to the story on the final leg of his Canadian tour, saying the language Catholic establishments had sought to suppress was “magnificent” and hosting a performance of song and dance by local Inuit artists.

The Pope acknowledged the painful testimonies he had heard from Indigenous survivors, including one who noted that before the residential school systems, “grandparents, parents and children were harmoniously together,” comparing him to spring, “when the young birds chirp happily around their mother.”

“Take care of the land, take care of your people, take care of your history.”
-Pope Francis

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“But suddenly – he said – the singing stopped: families were broken up and the little ones were taken away from home”, the pope recalls. “Winter has fallen on everything.”

“How wrong it is to break the ties that unite parents and children, to harm our closest relationships, to harm and scandalize the little ones,” François lamented.

Throughout his trip, Francis repeatedly apologized for the Church’s role in the Canadian government’s residential school program and its support of policies that included the forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples. The pope’s apology responds to a central request of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 final report.

But as he leaves Canada, some survivors remain frustrated that the pope did not use his visit to formally rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, which offered theological justification for colonizing Indigenous lands, or to return artifacts natives preserved in the Vatican Museums, which some say were wrongly acquired.

Melinda Tautu, who traveled to Iqaluit from Chesterfield Inlet with her father, a residential school survivor, said he was optimistic today would mark a turning point in his healing process.

“I want him to move on,” she told NCR. “I want to regain that innocence that he lost.”

People wait for the start of Pope Francis' meeting with youth and elders outside the elementary school in Iqaluit, Nunavut, July 29, 2022. (CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

People wait for the start of Pope Francis’ meeting with youth and elders outside the elementary school in Iqaluit, Nunavut, July 29, 2022. (CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

Iqaluit resident Mary-Lee Aliyak said she believed the pope’s apology was a good and necessary first step, but only that.

After the pope left, she said she would like to see both the church and the government fund healing centers to treat drug addiction.

Aliyak also expressed frustration that taxpayers’ money was being used to cover the cost of the trip.

The Canadian government gave money to the church to educate and care for children in residential schools, she said.

“Many of these children were starved, raped and looted,” Aliyak said. “They should give it back.”

In addition to his primary goal of apologizing for the church’s treatment of Indigenous peoples, Francis’ stay in the remote town of Iqaluit – the second most remote region ever visited by a pontiff, after the Pope’s visit John Paul II in 1984 in Fairbanks, Alaska – allowed Francis the opportunity to emphasize one of the central themes of his pontificate: concern for the environment.

“There is a beautiful relationship between you and this land you inhabit,” he said.

The territory of Nunavut has a population of just under 40,000 and is twice the size of Texas. In recent years, sea ice has continued to melt at a rapid rate and the region’s fish supply has begun to dwindle due to extreme weather conditions.

“This land, like every individual and every people, is also fragile and needs to be nurtured,” Francis said. “Care, teach and learn to care: young people in particular, supported by the example of their elders, have been called to this task!”

“Take care of the land, take care of your people, take care of your history,” the pope pleaded as he bid farewell to Canada.

After a reduced departure ceremony, in keeping with the overall somber nature of this visit, Francis will return to Rome and land in the early morning of July 30. An onboard press conference is scheduled during the flight.

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Robert M. Larson