ROME – The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis “expressed his willingness” to visit Canada after the country’s indigenous leaders repeatedly asked him to apologize for the church’s role in boarding schools.
In a short statement, the Vatican said that the bishops of Canada had invited Francis “in the context of a long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples” and that he had expressed “his willingness to attend” on a date that has yet to be determined.
The bishops of Canada, expressing their gratitude, said that Pope Francis had accepted their invitation.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has determined that boarding schools, a system of compulsory boarding schools for indigenous children that are mostly owned by Catholic organizations, is a form of “cultural genocide.” Physical and sexual abuse was found to be widespread in schools, and the commission called on the Pope to apologize.
The Pope has repeatedly turned down such requests, including from indigenous leaders and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who made a direct appeal during a meeting at the Vatican.
David Chartran, president of the Manitoba Mestiz Federation, said he was confident the Pope’s visit would finally bring an apology.
“This is a good sign,” he said. “Priority # 1 for us is to convince him to come to Canada.”
Rose Ann Archibald, National Leader of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples said on twitter that she will greet dad “When he arrives in Canada to offer a long-overdue apology.” She said she would also urge him to abandon and “officially withdraw” the papal Doctrine of Discovery from 1493, which proclaims that any land not inhabited by Christians can be “discovered”, claimed, and used by Christian-ruled nations.
The announcement came a few months after the remains of hundreds of indigenous children were discovered in May by ground penetrating radar at the site of a former Kamloops Indian boarding school in British Columbia. Similar discoveries have been made elsewhere, shocking many Canadians.
In December, Francis is scheduled to meet with representatives of three of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples: First Nations, Mestizo and Inuit. These sessions will be held at the Vatican for four days.
Mr. Chartran, however, said that he and other indigenous leaders will discuss the need for a session at the Vatican in view of the Pope’s upcoming visit to Canada.