The Pope donned an indigenous feather hat when he visited Canada to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in schools where indigenous children are abused.
Pope Francis said that the forced assimilation of indigenous peoples into Christian society destroyed their culture, separating families and marginalized generations in ways that today is still felt.
“I’m sorry,” the pope told school survivors and indigenous community members gathered at an old residential school in south Edmonton, Alberta.
He apologized for Christianity supporting the “colonial mentality” of the times and called for a “serious” investigation into schools to help survivors and descendants heal.
“With shame and clarity, I humbly ask forgiveness for the crime so many Christians have committed against the indigenous peoples,” Francis said.
On Monday, the Pope went to the land of the four Cree countries to pray during a ceremony. The four chiefs then escorted him in a wheelchair to the ceremonial stadium, where he offered an apology and was given a feathered hat.
More than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an attempt to isolate them from the influence of their families and culture.
The goal is to “Christianise” and integrate them into mainstream society.
The Canadian government has acknowledged rampant physical and sexual abuse at schools, where students are beaten for speaking their mother tongue.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called the system “cultural genocide”.
The legacy of abuse and isolation from families has been blamed by Indigenous leaders for the prevalence of alcohol and drug addiction in Canada’s protected areas.
Despite the bleak event, the 85-year-old pope had a bit of fun when he asked a Vatican aide to push his wheelchair closer to those waiting outside the Church of the Sacred Heart of the First Peoples. in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta.
He told the aide to push his wheelchair between the cars of a waiting police convoy and approach the crowd behind the fence.
At one point his assistant had to lower the wheelchair to maneuver it from the sidewalk to the street, placing the pope at a 45-degree angle toward the sky.
The people behind the fence cheered and ran their hands through the wiring in hopes of touching him.
The discoveries of hundreds of potential burial sites at alma mater over the past year has drawn international attention to the heritage of schools in Canada and schools in the United States.
It led Francis to heed the call of the truth commission asking him to apologize on Canadian soil for the role of the Catholic Church. Catholic religious orders run 66 of the 139 schools in Canada.
The Vatican has resisted calls for an apology from the pope for years.