Pope Listens to Canadian Indigenous

In scheduled visits, Métis and Inuit leaders bring testimonies, including those related to abuse at residential schools, to Pope Francis.

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Members of the Métis National Council gave Pope Francis a set of beaded moccasins and asked him to walk with them on the path of truth, justice and healing of Canada’s Indigenous communities and their relationship with the Catholic Church, said Cassidy Caron, president of the council.

Led by two fiddlers, the delegates walked from under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square to a prearranged spot where dozens of reporters waited to hear about their meeting March 28 with Pope Francis.

The delegates from the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami had separate meetings with the pope March 28. The delegation from the Assembly of First Nations was scheduled to meet him March 31.

The delegations’ trip to Rome, accompanied by six Canadian bishops, was designed to give them an opportunity to explain to Pope Francis how the communities live and struggle today and how the Catholic Church and its institutions contributed to those struggles, especially by running residential schools where the Indigenous languages and cultural expressions were banned and where many students experienced abuse.

After World Mission Sunday Mass at St. Ferdinand Church, pastor Father Jason Torba and Cardinal Blase Cupich greet the congregation, including all those who do mission in Chicago. (Julie Jaidinger, Chicago Catholic/U.S.)

Representatives of the Inuit and the Canadian Catholic bishops hold a press conference in Rome after meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican March 28, 2022. Pictured from left are Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Martha Greig with the Inuit, Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Bishop William T. McGrattan of Calgary, Alberta. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Before their meetings, leaders of all the groups said they want an apology from the pope for the Catholic Church’s role in running the schools. About 60% of the 139 schools across Canada were run by Catholic religious orders or dioceses. According to the government, which funded the schools, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend the schools between the 1870s and 1997.

The groups want Pope Francis to go to Canada and publicly apologize there for the church’s treatment of Indigenous peoples and its collaboration with colonizers. The Vatican has said Pope Francis is willing to make the trip, although it has not said when.

The three groups together, along with family members and supporters, were to meet again with the pope April 1 to hear his response to what they had shared.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis also want “unfettered access” to the records of the church-run schools, said Caron, president of the Métis organization.

She led her community’s meeting with the pope wearing a jacket with traditional beading that had been given to her for the occasion.

After World Mission Sunday Mass at St. Ferdinand Church, pastor Father Jason Torba and Cardinal Blase Cupich greet the congregation, including all those who do mission in Chicago. (Julie Jaidinger, Chicago Catholic/U.S.)

Pope Francis is pictured with Canadian Indigenous delegates from the Métis National Council and bishops representing the Canadian bishops’ conference during a meeting at the Vatican March 28, 2022. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

She said three of the delegates, survivors of residential schools, shared their stories with the pope. They “did an incredible job of standing up and telling their truth. They were so brave and so courageous.”

“We invited Pope Francis and Catholics all around the world to join us, the Métis nation, on our pathway of truth, justice and healing, and we hope that in committing to us, committing to real action, that the church can finally begin its own pathway toward meaningful and lasting reconciliation,” Caron told reporters.

“The only words he spoke back to us in English … were ‘truth, justice and healing’ and I take that as a personal commitment,” she said. “So, he has personally committed to those three actions.”

Too many members of the community have already died “without ever having their truths heard and their pain acknowledged,” she said. The time to acknowledge what happened and to apologize is “long overdue, it is never too late to do the right thing.”

After Pope Francis had spent about an hour each with the Métis and Inuit delegations, the Vatican press office said, the pope had wanted to listen and “to create space for painful stories brought by the survivors.”

Featured image: Canadian Indigenous delegates from the Métis National Council pose for a photo after meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican March 28, 2022. The pope is holding three meetings to listen to the experiences of representatives of Canada’s Indigenous communities, including being sent as children to residential schools operated by Catholic dioceses and religious orders. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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