Pope in Canada: a journey with mixed feelings

Papst Franziskus trifft indigene Gruppen

The papal visit to Canada ends notably: Pope Francis calls the injustices committed by indigenous peoples a form of “genocide.” Unfortunately, he only uttered the word “genocide” when he had already left Canada – at the traditional press conference on the plane back to Rome. During his tour of the world’s second largest country, he was accused several times of not using the term used by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Overall, the conclusion of the trip should be mixed. Francis fulfilled the demands addressed to him in his own way. For many Canadians, especially members of the Indigenous people, the Pope’s commitment did not go far enough. Francis embarked on this journey to make amends – despite physical limitations. After years of demands from indigenous peoples and politicians to church leaders, he apologized for the church’s role in the disastrous system of residential schools in recent times. These boarding schools were an essential part of the colonial-European adjustment policy.

4,000 to 6,000 children die in residential schools

About 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to visit them; According to expert estimates, between 4,000 and 6,000 children died in the desolate conditions there. For many survivors, the trauma of abuse and abuse continues to this day. It is true that other sects also operated these institutions, which were initiated and financed by the state; But his system was based on the schools established by Catholic missionaries at the beginning of colonization in Canada. Thus the orator was largely the Catholic Church.

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Image: ©KNA/CNS/PAUL HARING

Pope Francis prays among the graves of students at Erminskine Indian Residential School at Erminskine Cree Nation Cemetery during his visit to Muskavasis, Canada, July 25, 2022.


During his visit, Francis repeatedly apologized for his role – which included colonialism and forced missionary work – “of many members of the Church” and “of the religious orders”, “of the Christians” – the institution of the “Roman Catholic Church”. condemning the actions of “However not. This is exactly what the indigenous people demanded, as well as a commission of inquiry commissioned by the state. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted this in addition to praise and thanks in a meeting with the head of the church.

Nevertheless, many indigenous peoples received words of praise and recognition, which they themselves called the “journey of repentance”. For most of them, relief came at this crucial step on the way to processing. Because in addition to many survivors, their relatives and community still suffer from trauma caused by the school system.

A mass event at the shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beauprez

With them, Pope Francis called for a connecting element at all three stations of the journey – Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit. He visited the first indigenous Catholic parish in Canada, praying in a lake that is sacred to indigenous peoples as well as an important place of pilgrimage for Catholics from all over North America. Many of the meetings were combined with the traditional drum music of the natives, with Francis accompanies everywhere. The figure of St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, revered by both Catholics and indigenous peoples, ran like a red thread through the papal itinerary. His feast day was celebrated last Tuesday.

An incident occurred at another site dedicated to his worship, raising another point of criticism from Canada. At the beginning of a mass at the national pilgrimage site of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, the indigenous people held a banner demanding that Francis withdraw previous papal statements on the legitimacy of the colony. The so-called “principle of discovery” had its origins in papal documents of the 15th century. It provided an excuse for the colonial rulers of Europe to evict and oust indigenous peoples, and it also found its way into the law and jurisdiction of the latter state.

    Pope Francis meets indigenous representatives in Quebec
Image: ©KNA/CNS/PAUL HARING

Pope Francis speaks during a meeting with a delegation of indigenous peoples at the Archbishop’s residence in Quebec.


Conditionally specific about it, Francis remarked only after leaving Canada: This doctrine of colonialism, it is true, is bad and unjust and is still partially applicable today. However, the head of the church expressed no intention of revoking the documents from his predecessors. This visit was the first step, that was the consensus – among the Franciscans, indigenous peoples and politicians. At the same time, however, it was also the impetus for some concrete steps that many Canadians have so far missed. According to media reports, the Bishop of Canada is working with the Vatican on a manifesto on the “Dictrine of Discovery”.

Pope did not rule out his resignation

There is also agitation in the case of a French priest who allegedly abused indigenous children and fled to France. The government in Ottawa confirmed Paris’ extradition request. Questions about the demand for the return of indigenous artifacts from Vatican museums or the opening of church archives for further processing of the history of residential schools have remained unanswered so far.

One thing is clear: with traveling alone, he showed how much Francis cares about the subject. How stressful the knee problem is for them, it should not be overlooked in any meeting. On the return flight, the 85-year-old came to the conclusion in front of press representatives that you really couldn’t travel in such conditions. He also did not rule out the possibility of resigning on his own chance, although he is not thinking about it at the moment. “The door is open,” said the Pope. Eventually, the door to reconciliation with the indigenous people has opened another crack with the journey. To get through this, the Catholic Church will still have to take a number of concrete steps – both in the Vatican and in Canada.

by Severina Bartonitschek (KNA)

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