Pope says Catholic communities to promote Indigenous cultures 'in the spirit of' UNDRIP

After arriving in Quebec City, Pope Francis made a public address at the Citadelle, the fortress overlooking the plains and St. Lawrence River and bordering the old city.

Referred to United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Quebec City address

Pope Francis and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, right, arrive at the Citadelle during his papal visit across Canada in Quebec City on Wednesday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Hundreds of people lined the streets from Jean Lesage International Airport to the Plains of Abraham hoping to get a glimpse of Pope Francis as he arrived in Quebec City Wednesday.

It marks the fourth day of his visit to Canada, which he is calling a pilgrimage of healing, reconciliation and hope.

After meeting with Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he gave a public address at the Citadelle, the fortress overlooking the plains and St. Lawrence River and bordering the old city.

In it, he expressed feelings of "deep shame and sorrow" as he did two days prior to residential school survivors in Maskwacis, Alta., and reiterated a request for forgiveness "for the wrong done by so many Christians to the Indigenous peoples."

"I think above all of the policies of assimilation and enfranchisement, also involving the residential school system, which harmed many Indigenous families by undermining their language, culture and worldview," he said.

Pope Francis is greeted by Raymond Gros-Louis of the Huron-Wendat Nation, right, at the Citadelle in Quebec City on Wednesday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

"In that deplorable system, promoted by the governmental authorities of the time, which separated many children from their families, different local Catholic institutions had a part."

Ceremony delayed

The papal plane landed shortly before 3 p.m. ET. A small party of Quebec and Indigenous leaders, as well as residential school survivors greeted him before he was transported by motorcade to the Citadelle where a welcome ceremony was held. A chartered flight with guests and media leaving the Edmonton airport was delayed, pushing the official ceremony back by an hour.

In speeches at the Citadelle, both Simon and Trudeau reflected on the week's events.

"You recognized the abuses experienced at residential schools that resulted in cultural destruction, loss of life, and the ongoing traumas lived by Indigenous Peoples in every region of this country," said Trudeau.

"As Your Holiness said, begging pardon is not the end of the matter, it is a starting point, a first step."

WATCH | Gov. Gen. Mary Simon says Indigenous peoples 'never gave up' on apology: 

Indigenous peoples 'never gave up' on apology, Governor General says

1 year ago
Duration 9:44
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, speaking alongside Pope Francis in Quebec City on Wednesday, said Indigenous people came to hear what the leader of the Roman Catholic Church had to say 'with hearts and minds open.'

Simon said it's "our collective duty" to remember what happened at residential schools, "to tell the stories of survivors and of those who never made it home, and to support and care for those who did. 

"Support in terms of mental health resources. Helping families discover the true fate of those who never made it home. And care for Indigenous peoples who need the time and space to process what this visit means to them, and what the next steps should be."

Support of UNDRIP

In his address, the Pope said local Catholic communities are committed to promoting Indigenous cultures, customs, languages and educational processes "in the spirit of" the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Pope Francis, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, left, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, arrive at the Citadelle in Quebec City on Wednesday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

In its 94 calls to action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on all the church parties to the residential schools settlement "to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation" including "respecting Indigenous Peoples' right to self-determination in spiritual matters."

Giving a nod to the Haudenosaunee seven generations principle, which teaches that decisions made today should impact the next seven generations, the Pope said, "We need to be able to look, as the Indigenous wisdom tradition teaches, seven generations ahead, and not to our immediate convenience, to the next elections, or the support of this or that lobby," he said.

He also emphasized the importance of protecting the environment, family, multiculturalism, and of accepting Ukrainian and Afghan migrants.

"The Indigenous peoples have much to teach us about care and protection for the family," he said.

"May the wrongs that were endured by the Indigenous peoples serve as a warning to us today, lest concern for the family and its rights be neglected for the sake of greater productivity and individual interests."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.