As the Catholic Church continues to engage Canada’s Indigenous people and questions of historical abuse, Pope Francis met with a delegation of Metis people from Manitoba on Thursday.

The April 21 meeting with the pope was “a touching moment for many” and “tears were shed,” said David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, the National Government of the Red River Métis.

He told CBC News that the delegation spoke about “the importance of hope and revitalization,” the need for churches to be a living part of their communities, the need for more priests, and the need for Catholic churches still to play a role.

A victim of clergy sexual abuse also spoke to the pope.

“That was very touching. I think everybody shed a tear,” Chartrand told CBC News. “The pope was very attentive. He watched very carefully. You could see the emotion in his face.”

Thursday’s visit was separate from Canadian Indigenous delegations that visited in late March and early April. Métis communities share both Indigenous and European heritage, while First Nations communities are Indigenous peoples who lived south of the Arctic region in modern-day Canada, while Inuit peoples resided in the Arctic region.

Plans for a previous visit were canceled in 2021 amid reports of possible undiscovered graves at the sites of residential schools, run by Catholic and Protestant groups and funded by the government with the goal of forcibly assimilating Indigenous people. A 2015 government report further explored the mistreatment, abuse, and isolation many children suffered at the schools, where thousands died of disease.

On April 1, Pope Francis voiced his “indignation and shame” at the treatment of the Indigenous people and asked forgiveness. He is expected to visit Canada this July to meet with residential school survivors.

Chartrand discussed the pope’s interaction with the Manitoba delegation.

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“He said how ashamed he was for this to happen to our people. He asked for our forgiveness. He asked for us to pray for him also,” Chartrand said. “He shook every one of our delegation’s hands and gave everyone a gift.”

Pope Francis gave rosaries to everyone, as well as a physical olive branch to the delegation as a whole.

Other Metis groups had met with Pope Francis March 28. The Manitoba Metis Federation had requested a separate papal audience after it withdrew from the Metis National Council due to disputes about membership standards for recognizing Metis citizens, CBC News reports.

Chartrand further recounted the April 21 meeting to reporters in St. Peter’s Square.

“The tears that were shed in there, the stories that we exchanged back and forth, His Holiness accepted them with such grace and we were so touched when he asked, continued to ask, for the forgiveness from us,” he said, according to Reuters.

Chartrand said his delegation’s message was “somewhat different” than that of other indigenous Canadian delegations. Their own message was “more on hope and revitalization.”

The delegation gave Pope Francis two beaded crosses, made in an 1800s style. They also gave the pope two slippers. Chartrand explained: “the purpose of the slippers was for him to walk with us as we go in hope,” he said. “We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.”

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“We definitely thank the pope and accept his apology and we also spoke of reconciliation,” he said, according to Reuters.

Chartrand said he invited the pope to visit Manitoba, adding that “we will find him if he cannot come to the Red River.” He added: “(I)t will not stop us from continuing to believe in the Church and continue to support the Catholic Church in Canada.”

A prominent Metis leader was also a topic of the meeting. Chartrand gave to Pope Francis a coin of Louis Riel, a nineteenth century Metis leader who helped found what would become the province of Manitoba.

Chartrand has voiced hope that if the pope visits Winnipeg, he will bless the grave of Reil.

Riel was from a devout Catholic family and at one point studied for the priesthood. He grew up in a time when the French-speaking, Catholic Métis people feared invasion from English-speaking Protestants from Ontario.

“Riel never carried a gun. He carried a cross,” Chartrand told CBC News.

Riel sent a delegation to Ottawa to negotiate his provisional government’s entry into the Canadian Federation. This group was led by a Catholic priest, Father Noel-Joseph Ritchot, The Canadian Press reports.

Riel also led Metis resistance movements against the Canadian government under Prime Minister John A. MacDonald. He was executed for treason on Nov. 16, 1885 and is buried in Winnipeg at Saint-Boniface Cathedral cemetery.

Chartrand said the meeting with Pope Francis stressed the Red River Metis people’s links with the Church since 1817, when they petitioned a Catholic bishop to send them priests, “right through the present day.”

In recent decades the place of Indigenous Canadians has been the focus of historical investigation and recovery.

In the 1980s, former students of residential schools began to reveal some of the abuses they suffered, including physical, mental, and sexual abuse. A 2015 report from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission compiled many alleged abuses and problems. The schools were poorly funded, poorly built, and poorly staffed. In addition to abuse and neglect, children there suffered a particularly high death rate due to diseases like tuberculosis, especially before the invention of penicillin.

Some 150,000 children attended residential schools in the 100 years or so that they operated. The schools, many of them run by Catholic institutions, were a government-led program to suppress the native languages and cultural practices of Indigenous peoples.