Pope Francis celebrated another reconciliation ceremony Thursday at the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupre, the oldest Catholic shrine in North America, on the fourth day of his visit to Canada, which he intends to restore the church’s ties with the native population.
The 85-year-old pontiff greeted thousands of people, many of whom were indigenous, from the Popemobile, who attended his arrival at the sanctuary of Sainte Anne de Beaupre, 30 kilometers east of Quebec City.
At the beginning of the mass, in front of the altar and a few meters from Pope Francis, the demonstrators hoisted a banner that read: “Abolition of the Doctrine”, a reference to the “Principle of the Discovery”, the papal order of the century XV which gave non-repealing Authorized European powers to colonize Christian lands and peoples.
The banner was facing away from the pope and was removed after a while.
Many indigenous people, although they describe the Pope’s visit as historic, also think that the Church still has much to do.
The pontiff came to Canada to apologize for the church’s role in the mistreatment of Indigenous children in Catholic-run schools.
From the late 19th century to the early 1990s, the Canadian government sent 150,000 children to 139 church-run boarding schools, where they were separated from their families, language and culture as part of an unsuccessful policy of assimilation.
Many suffered physical and sexual abuse, and thousands are believed to have died from disease, malnutrition or neglect.
Francis apologized for the abuse as he began his journey on Monday, a plea for forgiveness that has been overwhelming for many indigenous peoples.
Desneiges Petike, a 54-year-old woman from the Manawan reservation, called her visit a “message of hope”.
“This pope knows we exist, he recognizes us,” he told AFP. “Yesterday I looked at it up close, it touched me here,” he said, placing his hand on his heart.
“It’s not enough,” say 23-year-old Abigail Brook, a member of the St. Mary First Nations. Brook also regretted that the Pope did not specifically mention sexual abuse.
During the mass at Sainte Anne de Beaupre, the Pope assured that the Church was “asking burning questions (…) on its difficult and demanding path of healing and reconciliation.”
“Facing the scandal of the evil in the flesh of our indigenous brothers and sisters and the wounded body of Christ, we too have experienced deep panic; we too feel the weight of failure,” he said.
They said, “Why did all this happen? How could this happen in a community of people who followed Jesus?”
In the afternoon, the pontiff will give a sermon at Notre Dame Cathedral in Quebec and on Friday, the last day of his six-day visit, he will stop at Iqaluit in Nunavut’s Arctic region.
The French-speaking province of Quebec is the province with the largest number of Catholics in Canada, but in terms of the decline of the Church, attendance has been lower than expected since the start of the journey.