FULL TEXT Pope Francis' Apology to Indigenous in Canada "I am sorry. I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated..." + Video

(24 - 30 JULY 2022)
Monday, July 25, 2022
Madam Governor General,
Prime Minister,
Dear indigenous peoples of Maskwacis and this Canadian land,
Dear brothers and sisters!
I was waiting to come among you. It is from here, from this sadly evocative place, that I would like to begin what I have in my heart: a penitential pilgrimage. I come to your native lands to tell you personally that I am saddened, to implore from God for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, to show you my closeness, to pray with you and for you.
I remember the meetings I had in Rome four months ago. At that time, two pairs of moccasins had been delivered to me as a pledge, a sign of the suffering endured by indigenous children, especially by those who unfortunately never returned home from residential schools.

I was asked to return the moccasins once I arrived in Canada; I brought them and I will do it at the end of these words, for which I would like to take inspiration from this symbol, which has revived pain, indignation and shame in me in the past months. The memory of those children instills grief and urges action to ensure that each child is treated with love, honor and respect. But those moccasins also speak to us of a journey, of a journey that we wish to take together.

Walking together, praying together, working together, so that the sufferings of the past give way to a future of justice, healing and reconciliation.
This is why the first stage of my pilgrimage among you takes place in this region which has seen, from time immemorial, the presence of indigenous peoples. It is a territory that speaks to us, which allows us to remember.
Remembering: brothers and sisters, you have lived in this land for thousands of years with lifestyles that have respected the land itself, inherited from past generations and kept for future ones. You treated it as a gift from the Creator to be shared with others and to be loved in harmony with everything that exists, in a vivid interconnection between all living beings. You have thus learned to nurture a sense of family and community, and developed strong bonds between the generations, honoring the elderly and caring for the little ones. How many good customs and teachings, centered on attention to others and on love for truth, on courage and respect, on humility and honesty, on the wisdom of life!
But, if these were the first steps taken in these territories, the memory sadly takes us to the following ones. The place where we are now makes a cry of pain resound in me, a muffled scream that has accompanied me in recent months. I think back to the drama suffered by so many of you, by your families, by your communities; to what you have shared with me about the suffering endured in residential schools. These are traumas that, in a certain way, relive each time they are recalled and I realize that even our meeting today can awaken memories and wounds, and that many of you may find yourself in trouble as I speak. But it is right to remember, because forgetfulness leads to indifference and, as has been said, "the opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference ... the opposite of life is not death, but the 'indifference to life or death' (E. Wiesel). Remembering the devastating experiences that took place in residential schools strikes us, angers us, pains us, but it is necessary.
It is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation and liberation, which also included the residential school system, have been devastating for the people of these lands. When the European settlers arrived there for the first time, there was a great opportunity to develop a fruitful encounter between cultures, traditions and spirituality. But to a large extent this did not happen. And your stories come to mind: of how assimilation policies have ended up systematically marginalizing indigenous peoples; how, even through the residential school system, your languages, your cultures have been denigrated and suppressed; and how children have been subjected to physical and verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse; how they were taken away from their homes when they were little and how this indelibly marked the relationship between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren.
I thank you for letting all this enter my heart, for taking out the heavy burdens you carry inside, for sharing this bleeding memory with me. Today I am here, in this land that, together with an ancient memory, guards the scars of still open wounds. I am here because the first step of this penitential pilgrimage among you is to renew my request for forgiveness and to tell you, with all my heart, that I am deeply saddened: I ask forgiveness for the ways in which, unfortunately, many Christians have supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry. I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, including through indifference, in those projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation of the governments of the time, which culminated in the residential school system.

Although Christian charity was present and there were not a few exemplary cases of dedication to children, the overall consequences of the policies linked to residential schools were catastrophic. What the Christian faith tells us is that it was a devastating error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It pains to know that that compact ground of values, language and culture, which has given your peoples a genuine sense of identity, pains to know that it has been eroded, and that you continue to pay the effects. Faced with this indignant evil, the Church kneels before God and begs forgiveness for the sins of her children (cf. St. John Paul II, Bull Incarnationis mysterium [29 November 1998], 11: AAS 91 [1999], 140). I would like to reiterate it with shame and clarity: I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against indigenous peoples.

Dear brothers and sisters, many of you and your representatives have said that an apology is not an end. I agree perfectly: they are only the first step, the starting point. I too am aware that, "looking to the past, what one does to ask for forgiveness and try to repair the damage caused will never be enough" and that, "looking to the future, everything that is done to give life to a culture capable of avoiding that such situations not only do not repeat themselves, but do not find space "(Letter to the People of God, 20 August 2018). An important part of this process is to conduct a serious search for the truth about the past and to help residential school survivors embark on healing paths from their trauma.

I pray and hope that the Christians and society of this land will grow in the capacity to welcome and respect the identity and experience of indigenous peoples. I hope that concrete ways will be found to know and appreciate them, learning to walk all together. For my part, I will continue to encourage the commitment of all Catholics to indigenous peoples. I have done so on other occasions and in various places, through meetings, appeals and also through an Apostolic Exhortation. I know that all this requires time and patience: these are processes that must enter hearts, and my presence here and the commitment of the Canadian Bishops are testimony to the will to proceed on this path.

Dear friends, this pilgrimage extends for a few days and will touch distant places, however it will not allow me to follow up on many invitations and visit centers such as Kamloops, Winnipeg, various sites in Saskatchewan, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Even if this is not possible, know that you are all in my thoughts and in my prayers. Know that I know the suffering, trauma and challenges of indigenous peoples in all regions of this country. My words spoken along this penitential journey are addressed to all communities and native people, whom I embrace from my heart.

In this first stage I wanted to make room for memory. Today I am here to remember the past, to cry with you, to look at the earth in silence, to pray at the tombs. Let the silence help us all to internalize the pain. Silence. And prayer: in the face of evil let us pray to the Lord of good; in the face of death, let us pray to the God of life. The Lord Jesus Christ made a tomb, the terminus of hope in front of which all dreams had vanished and only weeping, pain and resignation remained, he made a tomb the place of rebirth, of resurrection, from which a a story of new life and universal reconciliation. Our efforts are not enough to heal and reconcile, we need his Grace: we need the mild and strong wisdom of the Spirit, the tenderness of the Consoler. May he be the one to fill the expectations of hearts. Let him be the one to take us by the hand. Let him be the one to make us walk together.
Source: Vatican.va