Pope Francis declared on Sunday that his visit to Canada the next week will be a “pilgrimage of penance” meant to atone for the wrongs that abusive Roman Catholic priests and nuns who administered residential schools had done to native people. Francis will fulfill a pledge to apologize to native people on their home territory for the Church’s involvement in state-approved institutions that tried to eradicate indigenous customs by having at least five encounters with them during the trip from July 24 to 30. Francis said during his weekly speech to the public in St. Peter’s Square, “Unfortunately in Canada many Christians, including some members of religious orders, contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation that in the past gravely damaged native populations in various ways,”
The houses of almost 150,000 kids were seized. Many were victims of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada referred to as “cultural genocide” in 2015, which included abuse, rape, and hunger. The assimilation of native children was the proclaimed goal of the schools, which were in operation from 1831 to 1996. They were managed by Christian organizations, mostly the Catholic Church, on behalf of the state. The pope and indigenous people had discussions about the schools in March and April at the Vatican. Francis recalled the conversations and said that he had shared his sadness and solidarity over the horror that they faced. “I am about to make a pilgrimage of penance, which, I hope that with the grace of God can contribute to the path of healing and reconciliation that already has been started,” he said. The 85-year-old pope will travel to Iqaluit in Canada’s Arctic territory, Maskwacis, Lac Ste. Anne, Quebec, and Edmonton. He has nine homilies and talks, two Masses, and other engagements planned. Because of a knee issue that required him to first use a wheelchair and then a cane, the pope was forced to postpone a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan in early July.