Pope Francis could address residential schools

·3 min read

In what has been called an attempt to reconcile, the Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will visit Canada and meet with Indigenous leaders.

“This is all on the Pope’s plate,” said Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Ross Montour. “As the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, he needs to be the one to set the direction.”

Montour is reluctant to exude hope surrounding this announcement, as the Vatican has yet to make an apology or hold itself accountable for historic actions that have deeply harmed Indigenous Peoples.

“If you really want to talk about reconciliation, you need to make amends, and you need to attend to damages caused by your involvement with the residential school system,” said Montour.

The Vatican did release a statement explaining Francis’ stance on the visit.

It read: “The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has invited the Holy Father to make an apostolic journey to Canada, also in the context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. His Holiness has indicated his willingness to visit the country on a date to be settled in due course.”

The date of Francis’ arrival is still to be determined, but the Vatican has alluded to the visit being this year, perhaps in December.

A spokesperson at the CCCB, Jonathan Lesarge, believed that this visit will ignite important conversations and lead to hands-on results.

“By meeting directly with Indigenous Peoples on Canadian soil, the Holy Father will better understand their stories about the suffering and challenges that they continue to experience,” he said.

He explained that the CCCB will take it upon itself to work closely with the Vatican to help address the historic and ongoing legacy of residential schools. This legacy includes over half of the residential schools being run by religious bodies affiliated with the Catholic Church.

“We hope that these actions will demonstrate that we very much want to walk together with Indigenous Peoples in a new way,” he added.

Montour explained that it’s important that Pope Francis’ visit is based on a genuine desire to ignite change and learn from the Indigenous Peoples affected by the Roman Catholic system.

“We’ll see whether this is really substantial,” he said “There will be ceremonial functions and pictures, but none of that will matter unless there is tangible action taken. They have to reconcile with themselves.”

Lesarge added that at a local level, the CCCB has been involved in conversations with Indigenous people in an attempt to deepen connection and understanding.

“We are grateful for the stories and ideas that have been shared with us and have heard a clear consensus that Catholic entities, and all Canadians, must do more to support the healing and reconciliation journey,” he explained.

The CCCB has also announced a planned delegation to Rome from December 17-20.

“The planning and delegate selection has been guided by leaders from the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami,” said Lesarge. “We appreciate this ongoing collaboration with them and look forward to sharing further details in the days ahead.”

Montour expressed that the Roman Catholic Church has a lot to admit to, and a lot of work is still yet to be done before they can move forward.

He believes that this visit must be executed with the goal of listening to Indigenous Peoples and giving them space to express their opinions and share their stories. He also hopes the Roman Catholic Church will speak about the history of Indigenous people on a global scale while also acknowledging their own role within this system and what they can do to change.

“They need to behave in a true way,” said Montour. “There’s no reconciliation without truth.”


Callie Giaccone, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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