Canadian Catholic bishops say Indigenous delegation to pope set for late 2021

Pope Francis. Photo by Jeffrey Bruno/Flickr used under creative commons license.

Canada’s Catholic Bishops reaffirmed their commitment Thursday to sending a delegation of Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors and youth to the Holy See to speak directly to Pope Francis about the impact of colonization and implication of the Church in the residential school system.

The statement was issued in the wake of renewed calls for the pope to formally apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in the residential school system, which has been declared by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, and the Prime Minister of Canada, to be cultural genocide.

Many of the residential schools, which were designed to strip Indigenous children of their culture and identity, were run by the Catholic church.  Many students were taken from their homes and abused physically and sexually. Hundreds died at the schools, with death rates far exceeding that of the general population. The thousands of survivors returned home having suffered from unspeakable trauma.

The discovery of the remains of 215 children in an unmarked mass grave in Kamloops, which resulted in acts of solidarity across Canada, also led Indigenous groups and others to once again call on the pope to apologize for the church’s role in the residential school system. Over 60 per cent of residential schools were run by Catholic dioceses and orders.

On June 6 Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the Canadian people “traumatized by the shocking news” but did not issue the formal apology that many have asked him to make. The church has also refused to release documents related to residential schools. Advocates say those documents could reveal the locations of more gravesites.

In their Thursday statement, the Catholic bishops in Canada said “regional and diocesan listening circles have taken place across the country in order to hear the stories from local Indigenous communities and their hopes for the future. Mutual listening is the beginning of our common efforts to bring about shared and long-lasting reconciliation, authentic healing and bridge-building.”

The delegation to the pope has been in the works for over two years but was stalled by COVID-19. However, the bishops said, they remain committed to moving forward with the project before the end of the calendar year, in compliance with international travel guidelines.

The delegation is intended “to meet with the Holy Father to foster meaningful encounters of dialogue and healing,” while providing Pope Francis “unique opportunity to hear directly from Indigenous Peoples, express his heartfelt closeness, address the impact of colonization and the implication of the Church in the residential schools, so as to respond to the suffering of Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma.”

The bishops said the delegation represents an “important step on the journey of reconciliation and shared healing,” cited Pope Francis’ June 6 message about the discovery of the children’s remains at the Kamloops site, and added they hope the delegation, as well as the partnership that has supported its planning, “will lead to a shared future of peace and harmony between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church in Canada.”