Pope meets with Indigenous group as Canadian 'pilgrimage of penance' nears its end

·3 min read

QUEBEC — A Quebec Indigenous leader said Friday that residential school survivors have "had their moment" after a delegation gathered for a private audience with Pope Francis in Quebec City on the final day of his Canadian tour.

Ghislain Picard, head of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, said it will be up to survivors to decide if the Pope's trip — which included multiple apologies for the church's role in residential schools — met their expectations.

“It’s really up to them to take the measure of all this, whether it’s going to provide that kind of way for their healing," he said after the meeting. "It’s going to take time.”

Residential school survivors wearing ribbon skirts and an elder holding a feather were among the Indigenous delegation who had a 45-minute private audience with the Pope.

In an address to open the meeting, the pontiff told the delegation that he'd come to Canada in a "spirit of penance" to apologize for the wrongs inflicted upon them by "not just a few Catholics."

“I have come as a pilgrim, despite my physical limitations, to take further steps forward with you and for you,” he told the group seated in front of him.

“I do this so that progress may be made in the search for truth, so that the processes of healing and reconciliation may continue, and so that seeds of hope can keep being sown for future generations — Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike — who desire to live together, in harmony, as brothers and sisters.”

The delegation included survivors and representatives of First Nations across Eastern Canada, some of whom could be seen presenting the Pope with gifts as the private audience began.

Cree Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty said the meeting was marked by some confusion as supporters of some residential school survivors were asked to leave the room by the archbishop's staff even after papal security had let them in.

She said survivors used the meeting to share their pain and stories. One from her community in northern Quebec forgave the church for trespassing against the community, she said, while one nation insisted on how their ways, culture and language must be acknowledged and respected by the church.

Chief Duke Peltier of the Wiikwemkoong First Nation in northern Ontario said after the meeting that he had expected "a little more sincerity and more of an acceptance of responsibility for the church’s participation in the assimilative efforts of our people."

"I didn’t get the sense they are quite ready to fully participate in healing,” he said of the Pope's visit.

In his address, Francis said he had been enriched by the stories of the Indigenous people he has met in Canada.

"I can truly say that, while I came to be with you, it was your life and experiences, the Indigenous realities of these lands, that have touched me, remained with me, and will always be a part of me," he said.

Both Picard and Gull-Masty said that it is now up to Canadian bishops to take the next concrete steps.

Picard said Indigenous leaders shared a meal on Thursday evening with the bishops but none of the key issues — access to the church archives, the rescinding of the Doctrine of Discovery, the return of sacred objects possessed by the Vatican — were addressed.

Francis began his day with a private meeting with members of his religious order, the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. After his meetings, he boarded a plane to Iqaluit, where he will take part in private meetings with residential school survivors.

There will also be an outdoor meeting with young people and elders before he flies home to the Vatican.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2022.

Brittany Hobson and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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