Pope Francis said Sunday that he was sick of the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former Catholic school for local students in Canada, and called for respect for the rights and cultures of local peoples.
However, Francis stopped the direct apology that some Canadians demanded. Two days ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Catholic Church should take responsibility for its role in running many schools.
Speaking to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square about his weekly blessing, Francis called on Canadian political and Catholic religious leaders to “cooperate with determination” to shed light on the find and seek reconciliation and healing.
Francis said he felt close to “the Canadian people who have been traumatized by the shocking news.”
The housing schools operated between 1831 and 1996 and were run by a number of Christian denominations on behalf of the government. Most were run by the Catholic Church.
The discovery last month of the remains of children at India’s Kamloops Housing School in British Columbia, which closed in 1978, has reopened old wounds and sparked outrage in Canada over the lack of information and accountability.
“The sad discovery further increases the understanding of the pain and suffering of the past,” Francis said.
“These difficult moments are a strong reminder for all of us to distance ourselves from the colonizer model … and to walk side by side in dialogue and mutual respect in recognizing the rights and cultural values of all sons and daughters of Canada,” he said.
The school’s accommodation system has forcibly removed about 150,000 children from their homes. Many of them were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called a ‘cultural genocide’ in 2015.
“Let us commend to the Lord the souls of all the dead children in Canada’s residential schools, and let us pray for the families and local communities of Canada broken by pain,” he said before asking the crowd to join him in silent prayer.
Francis, who was elected pope 17 years after the last schools closed, has already apologized for the Church’s role in colonialism in America.
But most of all, he has chosen to apologize directly while visiting countries and talking to local peoples. No papal visit to Canada is planned.
Visiting Bolivia in 2015, Francis apologized for “many grave sins committed against the native people of America in the name of God.”
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