Pope Francis praises Canada’s indigenous people as he departs Québec

Pope Francis Canada Pope Francis address representatives of Canada's indigenous peoples at the archbishop's residence in Québec City. | Vatican Media

In a brief address Friday to delegates representing nine indigenous nations of Canada, Pope Francis said he is returning home “greatly enriched” after his weeklong “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada, during which he publicly apologized several times for past abuses perpetrated by Catholics against the nation’s indigenous.

“​​I have come as a brother, to discover firsthand the good and bad fruit borne by members of the local Catholic family in the course of the years. I have come in a spirit of penance, to express my heartfelt pain at the wrong inflicted on you by not a few Catholics who supported oppressive and unjust policies in your regard,” the 85-year-old pope said, addressing the group gathered at the archbishop’s residence in Québec City.

The policies to which Pope Francis is referring relate to Canada’s residential school system, which during more than 100 years of operation worked to systematically stamp out indigenous culture and language, often by removing children from their families by force. Catholic organizations ran at least 60% of the government-funded schools.

“I have come as a pilgrim, despite my physical limitations, to take further steps forward with you and for you. I do this so that progress may be made in the search for truth, so that the processes of healing and reconciliation may continue, and so that seeds of hope can keep being sown for future generations — indigenous and non-indigenous alike — who desire to live together, in harmony, as brothers and sisters,” the pope continued.

He thanked the indigenous people for welcoming him to Canada. The 22 delegates in attendance Friday represented the Mi’kmaq, Algonquin, Mohawk, Cree, Innu, Atikamekw, Malecite, Abenaki, and Naskapi nations.

“I can truly say that, while I came to be with you, it was your life and experiences, the indigenous realities of these lands, that have touched me, remained with me, and will always be a part of me,” the vicar of Christ said.

“I dare say, if you will allow me, that now, in a certain sense, I also feel a part of your family, and for this, I am honored,” he added.

As he first did in his apology speech on Monday, Pope Francis again praised the importance that indigenous communities put on family and tradition. He also developed this theme on Tuesday on the feast of St. Anne, the patron saint of grandparents.

“In a world that, tragically, is often all too individualistic, how precious is your profoundly genuine sense of family and community. How important it is to cultivate properly the bond between young and old, and to maintain a healthy and harmonious relationship with all of creation!” the pope said.

Pope Francis continued his speech by highlighting the example of three women who he said “best understand how to protect the most important things in life.” The first was St. Anne, who raised the Virgin Mary; the second was Mary herself, the Mother of God, and finally St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized and a member of the Mohawk people.

Both Mary and St. Kateri “received from God a plan for their lives, and, without asking any man, courageously assented to it,” the pope said.

“Those two women could have responded irately to anyone who opposed that plan, or simply submitted to the patriarchal rules of the time and given up, without battling for the dreams that God himself had inspired in them,” he continued. “They chose not to do that, but instead, with meekness and determination, with prophetic words and decisive gestures, they blazed a trail and accomplished what they had been called to do.

“May they bless the journey we now share, and intercede for us and for this great work of healing and reconciliation that is so pleasing to God. I bless all of you from my heart. And I ask you, please, to continue to pray for me,” the Holy Father concluded.

After the address, Pope Francis was scheduled to fly to Iqaluit, the capital and only city of Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost and most sparsely populated territory, arriving there at 3:50 p.m. EDT. After meeting with former students of Canada’s residential schools in Iqaluit, he will depart for Rome at 6:45 p.m.

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