Canadian Indigenous leaders set to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican to talk about Church’s role in residential schools

A procession during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission national event held in Saskatoon in 2012 -- among the TRC Calls to Action is a call for Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize for the Catholiic Church's role in residential schools. (Catholic Saskatoon News file photo)

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – Canadian Catholic News] – Canadian Indigenous leaders will meet with Pope Francis in the Vatican before the end of 2021 to address the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential schools that will hopefully lead “to a shared future of peace and harmony between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church in Canada,” Canada’s bishops announced on June 10.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said it has been working for years to arrange such a meeting and had hoped it would have been held earlier this year but that was sidelined by the COVID pandemic.

In a statement released June 10, 2021 the CCCB said the meeting in the Vatican that will include representatives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit organizations “represents an important step on the journey of reconciliation and shared healing for Indigenous Peoples and the Church in Canada.”

“The recent discovery of children’s remains at a burial site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, remind us of a tragic legacy still felt today,” Canada’s bishops said. “With the strong encouragement of Pope Francis, the Bishops of Canada have pledged true and deep commitment to renewing and strengthening relationships with Indigenous Peoples across the land.”

Although an exact date has not been given, Indigenous leaders with the Assembly of First Nations and the Métis National Council, along with Canadian politicians such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have renewed their calls for a meeting with Pope Francis in which they hope the Pope will agree to apologize for what happened in residential schools in Canada that were run by the Catholic Church and other Christian faith groups.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said such a meeting with the Pope is important for Canada’s Indigenous people.

“It’s a very big part of healing,” Bellegarde told the CBC in an interview. “Our missing children have not received the same dignity nor respect in death or in life that every human being deserves.”

According to the CCCB, the meeting with the Pope will allow residential school survivors to speak directly with the Pope.

“This pastoral visit will include the participation of a diverse group of Elders/Knowledge Keepers, residential school survivors and youth from across the country,” according to Canada’s bishops.

“The event will likewise provide Pope Francis with a unique opportunity to hear directly from Indigenous Peoples, express his heartfelt closeness, address the impact of colonization and the implication of the Church in the residential schools, so as to respond to the suffering of Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma,” the CCCB said.