Following today’s general audience, the Holy Father met with representatives from the Canadian aboriginal communities and expressed concern for the aboriginal peoples in Canada who continue to suffer from the impact of the former Indian Residential Schools.

Among the representatives were Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Archbishop Vernon James Weisgerber, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the late nineteenth century the federal government established residential schools for nearly 100,000 Canadian aboriginal children that were administered by Catholic and Protestant organizations and churches and financed by the Canadian government.  According to a statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic bishops, when these students attended the schools, they were “cut off from their families and forced to suppress their language, religion and traditional way of life.”

In addition to this “cultural purging,” some of the students “were also victims of sexual and physical abuse,” said the Canadian bishops.

Last June, Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper and the Canadian government formally apologized to the former students in a special assembly at the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Following their meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop V. James Weisgerber and Phil Fontaine expressed their deep gratitude for the special attention given by the Holy Father to the question of Aboriginal residential schools that had been operated by Catholic dioceses and religious communities.