Pope Francis speaking during a public event. Photo: Nathan Dennett/The Canadian Press/dpa
On Friday evening (local time) in the small coastal town of Iqaluit, the 85-year-old Argentine said boys are the future in the region. It is not enough to live on what others have already created. The head of the Catholic Church further explained that what is received as a gift should be won for oneself as well. The world in which people lived in these regions was the wealth they inherited.
The reason for the Pope’s visit to Canada was a request for forgiveness from the indigenous people. In Iqaluit, a few hundred kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, he primarily addressed the Inuit living there. For decades, thousands of Aboriginal children across the country experienced violence and abuse in boarding schools run by the Catholic Church.
“Even today, even here, I want to tell you that I am deeply saddened and would like to apologize,” Francis continued. He wanted to apologize for the evil done by “quite a few Catholics” who had contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation and disenfranchisement in these schools.
Some people shed tears. The former boarding school students had come that day to meet the Pope and hear his plea for pardon. Some put up signs calling for concrete action rather than words, and asked that CA$30 million be promised in reparations for boarding school survivors.
In 1876, the Canadian government introduced the so-called Indian Act, according to which children from indigenous families in boarding schools were to be assimilated into Western society and separated from their culture. The Catholic Church supported it and, by the late 1960s, ran several institutions across Canada, including the Iqaluit.
There was hunger, disease, violence and sexual abuse in boarding schools. Hundreds of children – some estimate 6,000 – died there and never returned home. When representatives of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit, met him at the Vatican in late March, Francis had already apologized to the indigenous people.
Along with Iqaluit – which roughly translates to “place with lots of fish” – Francis chose a place in Canada that is severely affected by the consequences of climate change. In the capital and important trading center of the Nunavut region, the Inuit reported thinner, later-formed, and earlier-melting ice sheets. It was even more surprising that Francis did not mention climate change in his speech. After all, he keeps coming to the Vatican on this subject again and again. And wrote about it in his textbook on the environment “Laudato Si”.
In Iqaluit, nearly 8,000 residents were hit by a water crisis again last year when fuel mixed with their drinking water. The government had to fly to bottled water because the water was no longer safe to drink. An investigation came to the conclusion that the old pipe system but climate change were also responsible.
As the ice thins and the pipes are no longer in a layer of permafrost, they can move as the ground freezes and thaws more often, causing damage. Tribals also saw less snowfall. In recent years, new maximum temperatures have also been measured and seasonally unusual amounts of rainfall have been recorded.
Prior to Iqaluit, Pope Francis first traveled to Edmonton in the western Canadian province of Alberta for his meetings with indigenous peoples in the first week, and then to predominantly Catholic Quebec in the province of the same name in French-speaking Canada.
After a visit to Iqaluit, which lasted about four hours, Francis left again for Rome. His six-day visit to Canada came to an end. He was to land in Rome on Saturday morning. On the return flight, Francis usually holds a press conference and answers questions from reporters.