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Sight Magazine – Essay: After listening to Indigenous peoples, Pope issues full apology

United States

In his first address in Canada, Pope Francis issued a full apology that showed he had listened carefully to the concerns of Indigenous peoples. They wanted not only an apology for the sins of individual Christians against Native children in Church-run residential schools, but also recognition of Christian cooperation in the systematic destruction of Native culture.

Too often, when church leaders apologize, they blame a few bad apples while defending the church. The pope rejected that approach when he spoke at the site of the former Ermineskin boarding school, where Indigenous children, forcibly taken from their parents, were punished for speaking their own language and forced to s to assimilate into European culture.

Pope Francis dons an Indigenous headdress during a meeting with Indigenous communities, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit, at Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church in Maskwacis, near Edmonton, Canada , Monday, July 25. PHOTO: AP Photo/Eric Gay.

Indigenous communities in Canada include First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

The Pope told these communities that “the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is to ask again for forgiveness, to tell you once again that I am deeply sorry”. Here, his presentation was interrupted by applause for the first of four times from the audience, which was made up mostly of former residential school students and Indigenous leaders.

“The Pope told these communities that the “first stage of my penitential pilgrimage among you is to ask again for forgiveness, to tell you once again that I am deeply sorry.” Here his presentation was interrupted by applause for the first of four times from the audience, which was mostly comprised of former residential school students and Indigenous leaders.”

He apologized for the sins of Christians against children and for the cooperation of Christians in the systematic destruction of indigenous peoples and their culture. What was confessed was both personal sin and structural sin.

He expressed his sadness “for the way in which, unfortunately, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry. I beg your pardon.” Again there was applause.

The pope asked “forgiveness in particular for the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, notably through their indifference, in the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time. which resulted in the residential school system.

He acknowledged that “the overall effects of residential school policies have been catastrophic. What our Christian faith tells us is that it was a disastrous mistake, incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Pope acknowledged that those present in the audience continue to pay the price for disastrous policies that have led to the erosion of the “values, language and culture that have constituted the authentic identity of your peoples.”

“Faced with this deplorable evil, he continues, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children. I myself wish to reaffirm it with shame and without ambiguity. I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples. Again there was applause.

Before speaking at the Ermineskin boarding school, the pope was greeted as “Francis White Eagle” by Chief Wolf Walker Golden Eagle, known in English as Wilton Littlechild, who was a student at the school. He was also a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The leader welcomed Francis for having come “a long way to be with us in our land and to walk with us on the path of reconciliation” and said he was especially grateful for the welcome that the survivors of school and native leaders received from the Pope in Rome. .

“You listened deeply and with great compassion to the testimonies that told how our languages ​​were suppressed, our culture was taken from us and our spirituality belittled,” he said. “You heard the devastation that followed how our families were torn apart. The words you spoke to us in response clearly came from the depths of your heart and were a source of deep comfort and encouragement to those who heard them.

The pope fully agreed with “many of you and your representatives [who] said that asking for forgiveness is not the end of the matter.

“It’s just the first step, the starting point,” he said. “I also recognize that looking to the past, no effort to ask for forgiveness and seek to repair the harm done will never be enough. And that looking to the future, no effort should be spared to create a culture capable of preventing such situations from occurring. An important part of this process will be to seriously investigate the facts of what happened in the past and to help residential school survivors have an experience of healing from the trauma they suffered. Again, applause.

Francis concluded by praying “that Christians and civil society in this country grow in the capacity to accept the identity and experience of indigenous peoples.” He also promised “to continue to encourage the efforts of all Catholics to support indigenous peoples”. .

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Pope Francis’ penitential pilgrimage should be an example for all church leaders to apologize to the victims of church leaders and other Christians. A prerequisite for any apology is listening so that the apology can be comprehensive and meet the needs of survivors. Listening is an essential part of the healing process, just like apologizing, and no apology will succeed without it.

Pope Francis followed up his apology with a visit to Sacred Heart Church of First Peoples in Edmonton, where Indigenous culture and spirituality are an integral part of church life. As a Métis parishioner, Candida Shepherd explained to the Pope, “Our church is a place where we will continue to preserve and revitalize Indigenous language, art and music, instilling pride in future generations.

The pope was greeted by indigenous drummers and singers from the parish. Within the sanctuary are three poles of a tepee as, Shepherd explained, “a symbol that reflects our living home offering security and connection to Mother Earth.” She quoted John 1:14, which says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” which literally translates to, “He pitched his tent among us.”

The Pope also noted that in the church “a tree trunk symbolically unites the earth below and the altar on which Jesus reconciles us in the Eucharist in an act of cosmic love that unites heaven and earth, embracing and permeating all creation”.

The pope said indigenous peoples have much to teach the Church about the use of such symbols.

The Pope’s visit showed his respect for indigenous culture and its incorporation into the life and liturgy of the Church. It is as important to the aboriginal peoples of Canada as his apology.

The Reverend Thomas J Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a senior analyst at the RNS.

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