Pope Francis is lifted aboard the airplane at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino, Italy, that will take him to Canada to apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the abuse of indigenous children on Sunday. The five-days visit is the first papal visit to Canada in 20 years. Photo by Redazione Telenews/EPA-EFE
July 24 (BP) — Pope Francis on Sunday traveled to Canada for a weeklong trip in which he will apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the abuse of indigenous children.
The pope’s trip, announced on July 19, will run through Saturday as the leader of the church makes his first trip to North America in seven years.
“Dear brothers and sisters of Canada, I come among you to meet the indigenous peoples,” Francis tweeted Sunday.
“I hope, with God’s grace, that my penitential pilgrimage might contribute to the journey of reconciliation already undertaken. Please accompany me with prayer.”
Francis arrived in Edmonton before noon local time and was greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, the governor general of Canada. He is expected to meet with the leaders of indigenous groups throughout the week.
His visit comes after indigenous leaders in Canada have pleaded to the pope for years to issue an apology from the Vatican for its role in running the country’s infamous residential school system where thousands of children died from neglect or were sexually and physically abused.
The residential schools, first created in 1876, were boarding schools that an estimated 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend from 1894 to 1947, funded by the Canadian government and created to assimilate indigenous peoples into the dominant Canadian culture.
Most of the schools were run by the Roman Catholic Church and the last of the schools closed in 1997, the CBC reported.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was organized as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, issued a report in 2015 finding that at least 3,213 children are reported to have died over the 140 years that the schools were operated.
Calls for Francis to issue an apology from the Vatican were amplified last summer after hundreds of unmarked graves were uncovered at the sites of a number of the former Indigenous schools.
Francis made the formal apology in April directly to a 62-member delegation at the Apostolic Palace made up of members of Canada’s three largest Indigenous groups. His trip this week marks a further effort to atone for the church’s role in the schools.
“I also feel shame … sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you,” Francis said in April. “And the abuses you suffered and the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values.”
In December, the Canadian government announced that it had reached a $40 billion agreement to settle lawsuits alleging that the on-reserve child welfare system received discriminatory funding and that First Nations children were unnecessarily taken from their homes.