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Apostolic Movement

Pope at Audience: Canada, a penitential visit ‘like no other’

By: Deborah Castellano Lubov

Pope Francis resumed his weekly Wednesday General Audiences on Wednesday, after his annual summer break, and dedicated this week’s catechesis to his recently-concluded Apostolic Journey to Canada.

The Audience was held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall due to the intense summer heat in the Italian capital.

During his catechesis, the Pope recalled his ‘penitential pilgrimage’ to the North American country, focused on healing and reconciliation with the nation’s indigenous peoples who suffered attempts to erase their culture and identity.

These injustices were perpetrated in the infamous historic government-funded residential schools system, with the cooperation of many members of the local churches.

In his remarks, the Pope remembered his time in Edmonton, Quebec, and his stop in the Arctic city of Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut Territory.


A ‘penitential’ visit like no other

The Holy Father said it was “a visit like no other.”

“In fact, the main motivation was to meet the indigenous peoples to express to them my closeness and my sorrow, and to ask for forgiveness – to ask for forgiveness – for the harm done to them by those Christians, including many Catholics, who in the past collaborated in the forced assimilation and enfranchisement* policies of the governments of the time.”

In this sense, the Pope explained, his journey “was undertaken in Canada to write a new page,” and continue to walk together, always closer, with the indigenous peoples.

The Pope pointed out how apropos the motto of ‘Walking Together’ was for the Journey.

Pope at audience

Repentance and reconciliation

Much analysis, the Pope suggested, “shows that, on the one hand, some men and women of the Church have been among the most decisive and courageous supporters of the dignity of the indigenous peoples, coming to their defence and contributing to raising awareness of their languages and cultures.”

“But, on the other hand,” he added, “there was unfortunately no shortage of those participated in programmes that today we understand are unacceptable and contrary to the Gospel.”

In this sense, he reiterated, this visit was penitential, and even if there were many joyful moments, “the meaning and tone of the whole was one of reflection, repentance and reconciliation.”

Rejecting mindset of colonization and promoting indigenous

In Edmonton, he said, there was an honest and sorrowful remembrance of the past, which continued in Quebec with “a plea” for reconciliation born of hope through Christ, and concluded, in Iqaluit, with confident trust in the “healing” made possible by the power of the Risen Lord to make all things new.

The Church’s desire, as it explicitly acknowledged the wrongs of the past, the Holy Father suggested, rejects the mindset of colonization, and esteems and promotes indigenous cultures.

Pope Francis concluded by praying, “May the fortitude and pacific action of the indigenous peoples of Canada be an example for all originary peoples not to close themselves up, but to offer their indispensable contribution for a more fraternal humanity, that knows how to love creation and the Creator, in harmony with creation, in harmony between you all.”

* (“Enfranchisement” was the process of changing the civil status of Indigenous peoples from “Indians” to full Canadian citizens – a process of assimilation that often came at the expense of their indigenous identity. Originally voluntary, enfranchisement became compulsory in 1876 and remained so into the 1960s.)


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