Pope Francis says he is in Canada to express his sorrow and ask for forgiveness for residential schools.
The Pope is giving an address before residential school survivors and elders in Maskwacis, Alta., where the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School was one of the largest institutions in the country.
Francis says he feels sorrow, indignation and shame.
Pope Francis in Canada: Translators to deliver apology in Indigenous languages
He says the memory of children who attended the schools is painful and every child should be treated with love, honour and respect.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where neglect and physical and sexual abuse were rampant.
More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, as well as other political and Indigenous leaders, were in attendance.
Organizers say that a sacred fire will be burning in communities throughout the country in solidarity.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where neglect and physical and sexual abuse were rampant. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.
Francis is set to speak later Monday with Indigenous Peoples and parish members at the Church of Sacred Heart in Edmonton.
Pope Francis’ visit stirs complex feelings among residential school survivors
Later in the week, the Pope plans to host a large outdoor mass at the city’s football stadium and take part in a pilgrimage in nearby Lac Ste. Anne, before travelling to Quebec City and Iqaluit.
Francis arrived Sunday for the six-day trip that is aimed at reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
A small crowd of dignitaries at the Edmonton airport included Trudeau, Simon and Indigenous leaders. The Pope made brief private remarks with organizers saying he has reserved public statements for Monday’s events.
Pope Francis arrives in Canada for trip focused on Indigenous reconciliation
Treaty 6 Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. said many people in the Indigenous community are skeptical and hurt, but an apology could be the start of a new journey.
“Many people have always felt that an apology was nothing but hollow words. But when the Pope made an announcement to come to Alberta and talk to our people, people started feeling like there was a sense of hope,” he said.
Arcand Jr. said an apology doesn’t erase the past but sets the way for communities to rebuild and work with the church, if necessary.
Indigenous leaders have said they are concerned the visit will open old wounds. Arcand Jr. called for more mental health supports to be put in place.
“I hope that when we hear an apology, we have the tools and the support necessary to help put people back together again.”
© 2022 The Canadian Press