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Pope calls for reconciliation, healing over Kamloops residential school discovery

Pope Francis said on Sunday that he was pained by the discovery of the remains of an estimated 215 children on the grounds of a former residential school that was operated by the Catholic Church in Kamloops, B.C., and called for respect of the rights and culture of Indigenous people.

Pontiff offers no apology as he addresses pilgrims in St. Peter's Square

Pope calls for reconciliation, healing over Kamloops residential school discovery

CBC News

14 days ago
3:25
Pope Francis said on Sunday that he was pained by the preliminary findings of the remains of an estimated 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., and urged Canadian political and Catholic religious leaders to seek reconciliation and healing. 3:25

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.


Pope Francis said on Sunday that he was pained by the discovery of the remains of an estimated 215 children an the grounds of a former residential school that was operated by the Catholic Church in Kamloops, B.C., and called for respect of the rights and culture of Indigenous people.

He urged Canadian political and Catholic religious leaders to "co-operate with determination to shed light on this sad affair" and to seek reconciliation and healing. Francis said he felt close to "the Canadian people, who have been traumatized by the shocking news."

Speaking to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square, he stopped short, however, of the direct apology that many Canadians had demanded from the Catholic Church for its role in the residential schools, which operated between 1831 and 1996 and were run by a number of Christian denominations on behalf of the government.

'Move away from the colonizing model'

The pontiff's comments spoke of healing but not of apology.

"The sad discovery further raises awareness of the pains and sufferings of the past. May the political and religious authorities of Canada continue to collaborate with determination to shed light on that sad story and humbly commit themselves to a path of reconciliation and healing," the Pope said.

"These difficult moments represent a strong appeal for all of us, to move away from the colonizing model and also from the ideological colonization of today, and walk side by side in dialogue, in mutual respect and in the recognition of the rights and cultural values of all daughters and sons of Canada."

Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia announced on May 27 the discovery of what it believes to be the remains of an estimated 215 children buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The finding has reopened old wounds and is fuelling outrage in Canada about the lack of information and accountability.

The school was operated by the Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969. Church officials have so far resisted making public the records related to the school.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend church-run, government-funded schools between the 1870s and 1997. Many were subjected to abuse, sexual assault and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called "cultural genocide."

Pope Francis spoke two days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Catholic Church must take responsibility for its role in running many of the schools.

The Pope made no reference to Trudeau's insistence that the Vatican apologize and take responsibility.

Casimir has said her First Nation wants a public apology from the Catholic Church. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which ran nearly half of Canada's residential schools, has yet to release any records about the Kamloops school, she said.

On Wednesday, Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller tweeted his "deep apology and profound condolences to the families and communities that have been devastated by this horrific news." Miller added that the church was "unquestionably wrong in implementing a government colonialist policy which resulted in devastation for children, families and communities."

Karen Joseph, the CEO of the Vancouver-based non-profit organization Reconciliation Canada, says she's disappointed the Pope didn't apologize.

She says her father, Gwawaenuk First Nation Chief Robert Joseph, a residential school survivor, has asked that the Pope specifically say he's sorry for the harm done to Indigenous children by the Roman Catholic Church.

"His apology is significant … he's actually the spiritual leader of the church," Joseph said Monday to Doug Herbert, guest host of CBC's Daybreak Kamloops

Joseph says there's already a crisis of faith among Indigenous Catholics who are residential school survivors.

The United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches have apologized for their roles in the abuse, as has the Canadian government, which has offered compensation.

Among the many recommendations of a government-established Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a papal apology. In 2009, then Pope Benedict XVI met with former students and survivors and told them of his "personal anguish" over their suffering. But his words weren't described as an apology.

Tap the link below to hear Karen Joseph's interview on Daybreak Kamloops:

Karen Joseph, CEO of Vancouver-based non-profit organization Reconciliation Canada, speaks to Doug Herbert about why the Pope's apology is important. 7:47

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

With files from CBC News, The Associated Press and CBC's Daybreak Kamloops

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