By Elise Ann Allen
ROME (Crux) — Pope Francis arrived in Quebec Wednesday, where he reiterated his apology to the country’s Indigenous peoples for the Catholic Church’s historic role in the “violent opposition” of their culture and condemned both new and old forms of colonization.
Speaking to Indigenous representatives as well as the country’s civil authorities, Pope Francis spoke of the benefit of Indigenous cultural values, such as their attentiveness to creation and respect for the elderly, and lamented that these values were systematically oppressed through past policies of assimilation and the residential school system.
Although the residential schools were a government project, Catholic institutions had a leading role in running many of them.
“For this reason, I express my deep shame and sorrow, and, together with the bishops of this country, I renew my request for forgiveness for the wrong done by so many Christians to the Indigenous peoples,” Pope Francis said.
“It is tragic when some believers, as happened in that period of history, conform themselves to the conventions of the world rather than to the Gospel,” the pontiff added.
The contribution of Christianity to shaping Canada’s highest national ideals must be recognized, he said, saying the church must also admit its faults and commit to working together “to accomplish a goal that I know all of you share: to promote the legitimate rights of the Native populations and to favor processes of healing and reconciliation between them and the non-Indigenous people of the country.”
Pope Francis arrived in Quebec Wednesday, where after an hour’s delay to allow participants coming from Edmonton to arrive, he made his way to the Citadelle of Quebec, an active military installation and the second official residence of both the Canadian monarch and the governor-general of Canada.
There, the pope held private individual meetings with Canadian Governor General Mary Simon and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before speaking to authorities and Indigenous representatives.
His stop in Quebec marks the second phase of his July 24-30 visit to Canada after arriving in Edmonton Sunday, where he apologized to Canadian First Nations for the Church’s role in the residential school system, which survivors have called a “cultural genocide.”
For more than a century, Canada’s residential schools attempted to assimilate Indigenous communities into Canadian society by forcibly removing children from their families and sending them to schools where they were often punished for speaking their native languages and where countless children underwent physical, psychological, sexual, cultural, and spiritual abuse.
Many of the schools were run by Catholic missionary orders and other Christian churches.
Members of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities in Canada traveled to Rome in March for a series of individual and collective meetings with Pope Francis, who offered an initial apology for the church’s “deplorable conduct” in the residential schools.
His visit to Canada is a follow-up to those conversations and was organized primarily as part of the Church’s healing and reconciliation process with Indigenous communities.
In his speech to the country’s authorities, Pope Francis underlined the commitment of the Holy See and of local Catholic communities to accompanying Indigenous peoples in their healing process through attentiveness to their culture, languages, and customs.
He said the time he has spent with Indigenous both in Rome and in Canada made an impression on him and “left a firm desire to respond to the indignation and shame for the sufferings endured by the Indigenous peoples.”
It also sparked a desire “to move forward on a fraternal and patient journey with all Canadians, in accordance with truth and justice, working for healing and reconciliation, and constantly inspired by hope,” he said.
However, Pope Francis noted that the wounds of the past run deep and cautioned that “colonization has not ended; in many places, it has been transformed, disguised and concealed.”
“In the past, the colonialist mentality disregarded the concrete life of people and imposed certain predetermined cultural models,” he said, but cautioned that “today, too, there are any number of forms of ideological colonization that clash with the reality of life, stifle the natural attachment of peoples to their values, and attempt to uproot their traditions, history, and religious ties.”
Pope Francis, throughout his papacy, has denounced “ideological colonization,” specifically criticizing wealthy nations that seek to impose their values on others.
This mentality, he said, leads to so-called “cancel culture,” which judges the past “purely on the basis of certain contemporary categories.”
The result of this, he said, “is a cultural fashion that levels everything out, makes everything equal, proves intolerant of differences, and concentrates on the present moment, on the needs and rights of individuals, while frequently neglecting their duties with regard to the weakest and vulnerable of our brothers and sisters: the poor, migrants, the elderly, the sick, the unborn.”
In an apparent rebuke of Canada’s legalization of abortion and assisted suicide, Pope Francis said these categories “are the forgotten ones in ‘affluent societies’” and are the ones who, through an attitude of indifference, “are cast aside like dry leaves to be burnt.”
Pope Francis also condemned the often “frenetic pace” of life, as well as the “individualistic” and “cutthroat” nature of modern economic models, which he said leads to “the loneliness and isolation” of young people and “the abandonment of the elderly and the infirm.”
Through their strong cultural values and attentiveness to family bonds, Indigenous communities have a lot to teach in this regard, he said. “May the wrongs that were endured by the Indigenous peoples serve as a warning to us today, lest concern for the family and its rights be neglected for the sake of greater productivity and individual interests.”
He praised Canada’s commitment to the environment and to multiculturalism, which he said “is fundamental for the cohesiveness of a society as diverse as the dappled colors of the foliage of the maple trees.”
“Multiculturalism is a permanent challenge,” Pope Francis said. “It involves accepting and embracing all the different elements present, while at the same time respecting their diverse traditions and cultures, and never thinking that the process is complete.”
To this end, he praised Canada’s generous welcome of Ukrainian and Afghan migrants but said there is also a need “to move beyond the rhetoric of fear with regard to immigrants” and to provide them “the concrete opportunity to become involved responsibly in society.”
“It is also necessary to confront the individualistic mindset and to remember that life in common is based on presuppositions that the political system cannot produce on its own,” he said, and offered the Church’s support in this regard.
Pope Francis also lamented that despite being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, Canada still has a high homeless population. It is “scandalous” that Canada’s economic development “does not benefit all the sectors of society,” he said, pointing specifically to the Indigenous population.
“Precisely among the Native peoples, we often find many indices of poverty, along with other negative indicators, such as the low percentage of schooling and less than easy access to owning a home and to health care,” he said.
Pope Francis again invoked the image of the maple leaf, asking that, as a multicolored national emblem, it serves an incentive “to everyone to make economic and social decisions that foster participation and care for those in need.”
“It is by working in common accord, hand in hand, that today’s pressing challenges must be faced,” he said.