Pope visits Nunavut for final apology of Canadian tour: NPR

Pope Francis meets with youth and elders on Friday at Nakasuk Elementary School Square in Iqaluit, Canada.

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Pope Francis meets with youth and elders on Friday at Nakasuk Elementary School Square in Iqaluit, Canada.

Gregorio Borgia/AP

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Pope Francis ended a weeklong “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada on a dramatic visit, heading to the edge of the Arctic on Friday to apologize to the Inuit people for the “evil” of Canada’s residential schools. A remote area of ​​Nunavut to meet school survivors.

Francis landed in Iqaluit, a town of 7,500, and met with former elementary school students to hear firsthand their experiences of being torn from their families and forced to attend church-run, government-funded boarding schools. The policy, in effect from the late 1800s to the 1970s, aimed to separate children from their native cultures and assimilate them into Canadian, Christian society.

“How bad it is to break the ties between parents and children, to injure our closest relations, to harm the little ones, and to cause scandal!” Francis spoke to a gathering of Inuit youth and elders outside the school.

He thanked the school survivors for their courage in sharing their suffering, which he first heard last spring when delegations from First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples traveled to the Vatican to apologize.

“It renewed the anger and shame I had felt for months,” Francis said. “I want to tell you how sorry I am and ask for forgiveness for the evil done by a few Catholics who contributed to the policy of cultural assimilation and enfranchisement in these schools.”

Before his speech, the pope – seated in a seal-skin chair – watched performances by Inuit throat singers and dancers. During his address, he drew applause by saying “I’m sorry” in Inuktitut, the Inuit language. And he ended by saying “thank you” in Inuktitut.

Events took longer than planned; The Pope’s plane took off about 90 minutes behind schedule.

The visit capped off an extraordinary tour designed specifically for the Pope to apologize to indigenous peoples for the abuses and injustices they have suffered from their descendants and to reassure them of his commitment to helping them reconcile their relationship with the Catholic Church. After stops in Edmonton, Alberta and Quebec City, Francis concluded his pilgrimage in Nunavut, a vast area spanning the Arctic Circle that represents the farthest north an Argentine pope has ever traveled.

In anticipation of his arrival, organizers prepared many mesh hats to ward off mosquitoes, which are sometimes abundant in the mild summer temperatures of Iqaluit, about 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Local elders listen to Pope Francis’ apology at a public event in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Friday.

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Local elders listen to Pope Francis’ apology at a public event in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Friday.

Nathan Denette/AP

The Canadian government said physical and sexual abuse at residential schools was rampant, and Francis on Thursday asked for forgiveness for the “evil” of sexual abuse by clergy and pledged an “irrevocable commitment” to prevent it from happening again. His vow came after his initial apology this week failed to mention sexual assault, upsetting some survivors and winning a complaint from the Canadian government.

Francis’ apologies have received a mixed response, with some school survivors welcoming them as helpful to their recovery, while others say more needs to be done to right past wrongs and seek justice. Several protesters came to the main event in Iqaluit with placards stating demands of this nature.

The Inuit community is asking the Vatican for help in extraditing Rev. Joannes Rivoire, an Oblate priest who served the Inuit communities until he left and returned to France in the 1990s. Canadian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998 on several charges of sexual assault, but it was never served.

The Canadian government said this week it has requested France’s extradition of Rivoire, but has not said when. Rivoire denied wrongdoing.

In private, Francis heard from survivors, including a woman whose daughter died at a residential school; the woman and her husband have been searching for his grave for years. Another speaker was the daughter of one of Rivoir’s victims, who died after years of alcohol abuse, said Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for clergy abuse victims who has fought for years to bring Rivoir to justice.

The Inuit warmly welcomed Francis to their homeland and lit a ceremonial lamp or kuliq to mark the occasion.

In his speech, Francis spoke of its symbolic importance, saying it dispels darkness and brings warmth.

“We are here with the desire, with the help of the Creator, to continue the journey of healing and reconciliation together, which can help shed light on what happened and move beyond the dark past,” Francis said.

Directing himself to the younger generations, Francis urged them to choose light over darkness, to keep hopes alive, to aim high and to protect the environment. He emphasized the value of teamwork, recalling the successes of ice hockey, Canada’s favorite national sport.

Jimmy Lucassi, an Inuit from Iqaluit, was on the school grounds for Francis’ visit with his wife and children. “It probably means a lot to a lot of people,” he said. “That’s all we talked about. They closed the stores to celebrate.”

The trip was the first for the 85-year-old pope, who has been forced to use a wheelchair, walker and cane due to painfully strained knee ligaments that forced him to cancel a trip to Africa earlier this month. Even with the short schedule, the trip was clearly uncomfortable for Francis, who said he felt “restricted” by not being able to move around as freely as he wanted.

People protest as they wait to meet Pope Francis at Nakasuk Elementary School Square in Iqaluit, Canada, on Friday.

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People protest as they wait to meet Pope Francis at Nakasuk Elementary School Square in Iqaluit, Canada, on Friday.

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The journey ahead is unclear. Francis has said he would like to visit Kiev, Ukraine, but no trip appears to be on the immediate horizon. He is also expected to attend an interfaith meeting in Kazakhstan in mid-September, which could provide an opportunity to meet with Russian Patriarch Kirill, who has justified Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

Reaction to Francis’ visit to Canada has been mixed, with the government even saying his apology did not go far enough in accepting blame for the Catholic Church’s institutional role in supporting school policy.

Some school survivors saw his apology as genuine and helpful in the healing process. Others were outraged that unmarked graves were still found outside some residential schools for the pope’s apology after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called for the pope’s apology to be delivered specifically on Canadian soil in 2015.

Others demanded the church provide more information about the fate of children who never returned home from school and rejected 15th-century papal bulls called the Doctrine of Discovery, which legalized the colonial occupation of indigenous lands. For the sake of spreading Christianity.

The Vatican itself is unlikely to keep records of the fate of local children who die in schools, although there will be records of any priest who faced canonical punishment after 2001, and possibly before. If there are documents related to children, they are likely to be in the archives of individual religious orders.

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Associated Press religion news is supported by funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. through AP’s partnership with The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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