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Pope Francis asked for forgiveness from Canada’s Indigenous community Monday for the Catholic Church’s role in the country’s “catastrophic” residential school system, which sought to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian society, the BBC reported.
The pontiff made his remark during a visit to Canada this week, where he met with Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors.
Francis said that he was “deeply sorry” and felt “sorrow, indignation and shame” for the “evil committed by so many Christians,” who ran and operated the majority of residential schools in Canada.
Many Indigenous survivors and leaders praised the pope’s apology, even though some said they were looking for more action from the Vatican leader.
Monday’s remarks came more than three months after Francis first issued a historic apology to an Indigenous delegation in the Vatican.
The pope’s visit and mea culpa mark a significant admission by the Catholic Church, which has at times failed to acknowledge the Vatican’s involvement in historical injustices: For example, the Church has yet to issue a complete apology for the role played by Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church in the horrors perpetrated in the Holocaust.
Canada has been reckoning with past abuses stemming from its residential school system following the discovery of a number of unmarked graves near the institutions.
The schools, which operated from the 1870s until the late 20th century, were part of a government effort to destroy Indigenous culture and language. During that period, around 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed in these schools. Many of the survivors said they experienced abuse and starvation by the school staff and clergy.
More than 3,000 are believed to have died with some being buried in unmarked graves near the premises.
A landmark 2015 report by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the school system as “cultural genocide.”