Pope Francis’ first ceremony in Canada has been a silent prayer in front of a sea of white crosses. In the cemetery next to the old boarding school for the indigenous Erminskin, the Pope prays for the four thousand children who entered one of those schools, and who died there or never returned home.
Further, quietly, in a wheelchair, the pontiff approached the Esplanade, where stood this boarding school, managed by a Catholic religious, the largest in the country. The place opened its doors in 1916 and closed in 1975, although the church had given up its management six years earlier. testimonies of the people who went there punished To speak their mother tongue and practice their traditional ceremonies.
Now, the only pain and memory left of the place stems from the five tipis, the conical-shaped Indian tent made of several protruding sticks. Four represent the nations that populated the region, and the fifth, the gateway to the old school.
The Pope has considered the place with a serious and passionate face, along with several leaders of indigenous communities. Then, you’ve entered a circular esplanade in which indigenous people hold their traditional ‘pow wah’, or tribal meetings. About 2,000 survivors were waiting there for the most delicate meeting of the journey, accompanied by indigenous chiefs, elders and “guardians of wisdom” of these peoples from across the country.
You are welcomed by an alumnus of this boarding school, formerly the Grand Chief of the League of Nations, Wilton Littlechild. She has called him the “White Eagle” and thanked him “for the enormous personal effort it took to be here” and for hearing in Rome “how our language was suppressed, our culture was taken away and our Spirituality was maligned.”
In his speech, the pope apologized seven times, once to God, and six times to indigenous people and society. “I have come personally to tell you that I am hurt, to beg God for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, to show you my closeness, to pray with you and for you,” Pope started when he translated it. For 12 indigenous languages.
many listened to him with low eyes Or closing their eyes, others have not been able to hold back their tears. Deliciously, Francisco has conceded that “our meeting can evoke memories and wounds, and that many of you may feel bad when I speak. But it is worth remembering, because forgetting produces nostalgia.” which is the opposite of love.”
The Pontiff has summarized the drama that continues in these countries. They have condemned how “equalization policies systematically marginalized indigenous peoples; how, even through the residential school system, their languages and cultures were stigmatized and suppressed; how children were physically and verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse; how they were taken away from their homes when they were young and how it indelibly affected the relationship between parents and children, between grandparents and grandchildren marked”.
I tell you with all my heart that I am deeply hurtI apologize for the way, unfortunately, many Christians adopted the colonial mentality of the powers that oppressed indigenous peoples,” he assured. “I apologize, in particular, for the way the Church And many members of religious communities cooperated, through indifference, in those projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation by the governments of the time, which culminated in the residential school system,” he added.
They recognize that seeking forgiveness is only a first step, and that sincerity must be demonstrated with “a serious search for the truth about the past, and helping victims complete the healing processes of trauma they suffered”.
In addition, he has asked that “Christians and societies in this land develop in an ability to welcome and respect the identity and experience of indigenous peoples.” “For my part, I will continue to encourage the commitment of all Catholics with respect to indigenous peoples,” he assured, also referring to his apostolic sermon “Dear Amazonia.”
returned before leaving two pairs of children’s moccasins, which an indigenous woman gave to him in Rome, and which became a symbol of outrage in Canada when graves were found around the old schools. “The memory of these children causes grief and calls for action so that everyone is treated with love, respect and dignity,” he stressed. “But those moccasins also speak of a path that we want to walk together, pray together and work together, so that the sufferings of the past can pave the way for a future of justice, healing and reconciliation.”
When the pope spoke, many indigenous communities in the country had “sacred fires” lit in moments of healing and prayer, and when circumstances called for giving thanks or celebrating whatever happens. To set him on fire, they put on him the feathered hats of the great chiefs, a symbol of the authority and trust of these people. A gesture that was unimaginable just a few months ago.