Pope Francis decried “ideological colonization” Wednesday and renewed his apology to Indigenous peoples for decades of abuse in a speech to Canada’s top officials, who invited him to take further action leading to “real reconciliation.”
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics was speaking in Quebec City, the latest stage of his landmark tour of Canada which he kicked off this week with a powerful apology for the Church’s role in the abuse of Indigenous children at Catholic-run residential schools.
On Wednesday, the 85-year-old pontiff slammed the “deplorable” school system and again expressed his “deep shame and sorrow… I renew my request for forgiveness for the wrong done by so many Christians to the Indigenous peoples.”
He derided the “colonialist mentality” of the past — adding that “today, too, there are any number of forms of ideological colonization that clash with the reality of life, stifle the natural attachment of peoples to their values, and attempt to uproot their traditions, history and religious ties.”
Praising multiculturalism, he vowed to promote the rights of Indigenous people and to “move forward on a fraternal and patient journey … working for healing and reconciliation.”
From the late 1800s to the 1990s, Canada’s government sent about 150,000 children into 139 residential schools run by the Church, where they were cut off from their families, language and culture in a failed policy of forced assimilation.
Many were physically and sexually abused, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.
Francis has been welcomed in Canada, and his apology — which he first made on Monday in the western Indigenous community of Maskwacis — has been hailed as historic, though many Indigenous people who have spoken to AFP have warned there is more work to do.
That point was driven home again to the pope on Wednesday by Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous governor general, who along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted Francis when he arrived in Quebec City from Edmonton.
“Regardless of where you are listening from… you are on Indigenous land,” she said.
She praised the survivors of the school system, who came to hear the pope’s words “with hearts and minds open, some willing to forgive, some still living with the hurt, but all willing to listen.”
The pontiff’s visit, she added, was “an important step towards further dialogue and actions that will lead to real reconciliation.”
Trudeau, too, looked to the future.
“Survivors and their descendants need to be at the centre of everything we do together going forward,” he said.
‘Intolerant’ cultural fashion
Pope Francis also took on cancel culture on Wednesday, branding it “a cultural fashion that … proves intolerant of difference and concentrates on the present moment, on the needs and rights of individuals, while frequently neglecting their duties with regard to the most weak and vulnerable.”
The pontiff also reiterated his feelings about the war in Ukraine, warning against “an arms race and strategies of deterrence” and raising the spectre of “terrible and protracted cold wars.”
Along the road from the airport to the Citadel in Quebec City, hundreds of people, smartphones in hand, crowded behind the barriers to catch a glimpse of the pope in his white Fiat. Some carried welcome signs or flags of the Vatican.
On Thursday, Francis will visit the National Shrine of Saint Anne de Beaupre, one of the main pilgrimage sites in North America, and preside over a mass. Later that day he will go to Notre Dame Cathedral in Quebec City to give a homily.
On Friday, he will travel to the Arctic archipelago of Nunavut, where he will visit the town of Iqaluit for the last stop of his six-day visit.
Francis has been suffering from knee pain and often using a wheelchair during his Canada tour.
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