Pope Francis on Friday encouraged indigenous young people and elders in Iqaluit in northern Canada not to be disheartened but to seek out what is good.

Some of those assembled in the primary school square to listen to the pope July 29 had met with him at the Vatican in March. Before the pope spoke, several indigenous performers welcomed him by singing songs, and he was presented with an Inuit drum.

“I tried to imagine, after our meeting in Rome, these vast places that you have inhabited from time immemorial and that others would consider inhospitable. You have come to love these places, to respect, cherish and enhance them, passing on, from generation to generation, such basic values as respect for the elderly, genuine fraternity, and care for the environment,” the 85-year-old pope said.

“There is a beautiful relationship between you and this land you inhabit, because it too is strong and resilient, and responds with brilliant light to the darkness that enshrouds it for most of the year,” he continued.

“Yet this land, like every individual and every people, is also fragile and needs to be cared for. Caring, teaching, and learning how to care: to this task young people, in particular, supported by the example of their elders, have been called! Care for the earth, care for your people, care for your history.”

Iqaluit marks the final stop of Pope Francis’ weeklong trip to Canada. The northerly outpost is the only city in Inuit-governed territory of Nunavut. Pope Francis is scheduled to depart for Rome Friday evening.

An indigenous dancer performs for Pope Francis on July 29, 2022, in Iqaluit in northernmost Canada. Vatican Media
An indigenous dancer performs for Pope Francis on July 29, 2022, in Iqaluit in northernmost Canada. Vatican Media

In his speech, the pope thanked former students of Canada’s residential schools for sharing their experiences with him during a private meeting earlier in the day. During more than 100 years of operation, Canada’s residential schools system 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.

Pope Francis again asked for forgiveness “for the evil perpetrated by not a few Catholics who contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation and enfranchisement in those schools.” He decried the separation of children from their parents,

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“How evil it is to break the bonds uniting parents and children, to damage our closest relationships, to harm and scandalize the little ones!” he said.

Speaking to the young people in the audience, the pope spoke of “a kind of hidden ‘force of spiritual gravity’ that tries to drag us down, kill our desires, and lessen our joy.”

“God never ceases to have confidence in you, not for a second. He believes in your talents. When you seek him, you will come to realize how the path he calls you to follow always goes upwards. You will realize this when you look up at the sky as you pray, and especially when you contemplate him on the cross,” Pope Francis said.

“You will come to realize that Jesus, from the cross, never points his finger at you; he embraces you and encourages you, because he believes in you even at those times when you stop believing in yourself. So never lose hope, fight, give it your all, and you will not be sorry.”

The pope noted that he had witnessed the lighting of a qulliq, a traditional Inuit oil lamp that burns using seal or whale blubber.

“When you feel sad or downcast, think of the qulliq: It has a message for you. What message? That you are meant to come into the light each day. Not just on the day of your birth, when it did not depend on you, but every day. Each day you are called to bring new light into the world, the light of your eyes, the light of your smile, the light of the goodness that you and you alone can bring,” he said.

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“Yet, to come into the light, to be reborn, you need to fight each day against the darkness. For there is a daily clash between light and darkness, which does not take place somewhere out there, but within each of us. To follow the way of light requires courageous and heartfelt decisions to resist the darkness of lies.”

The pope offered some criteria whereby young people can better discern light from darkness.

“"We too, if we want to become better, must learn to distinguish light from darkness," he said. "Where do we start? You can start by asking yourself: What are the things that first strike me as glittery and seductive, but then leave me with a feeling of deep emptiness? That is the darkness! What, on the other hand, is good for me and leaves a feeling of peace in my heart, even if it first calls me to give up certain conveniences and to master certain instincts? That is the light!”

The way to please God is to use your freedom to choose to do good, the pope said.

“Freedom does not mean doing everything I want and acting as I please. Freedom is not about what I can do in spite of others, but what I can do for others. Freedom is not total caprice, but responsibility. Freedom, along with life, is the greatest gift that our heavenly Father has given us,” he said.

The pope’s final piece of advice for the young people was “Be part of a team.” To illustrate teamwork he used imagery from Canada’s most popular sport, hockey.

“Hockey combines discipline and creativity, tactics, and physical strength; but team spirit always makes the difference; it is essential for responding to the unpredictability of every game,” Pope Francis said.

“Teamwork means believing that, in order to achieve great goals, you cannot go it alone; you have to move together, to have the patience to practice and carry out complicated plays. Teamwork also involves making room for others, dashing out quickly when it is your turn and cheering on your teammates. That is team spirit!” he continued.

“It is my hope and prayer that, by listening to your elders and drawing from the richness of your traditions and your personal freedom, you will embrace the Gospel preserved and handed down by your ancestors, and thus come to see the Inuk face of Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis concluded.

Following the speech, the Governor General of Canada, Mary Simon, was scheduled to see off Pope Francis at Iqaluit International Airport.