Pope Francis announced Thursday, October 27, that he wished to visit Canada in response to a recent invitation from the Canadian Bishops’ Conference. An approach that is part of a process of reconciliation and healing initiated after the macabre discovery of mass graves near Catholic establishments last May.

At the end of May, the excavation of graves in a cemetery near the Catholic boarding school in Kamloops – a small town in British Columbia located on former Native American territory – revealed the anonymous burials of 215 children, former students of the establishment. A discovery that leads to others near Christian boarding schools: 751 bodies in Marieval, 182 in Canbrook, and 160 in Penelakut.

These establishments, run mostly by Catholic congregations at the request of the Canadian government, had for almost a century, between 1883 and 1969, the goal of evangelizing and assimilating the indigenous populations. For several years, Aboriginal groups – known in Canada as “First Nations” – have been denouncing the living conditions imposed on residents.

On May 31, learning of the discovery of the Kamloops mass grave, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) recalls a “tragedy” which “brings back trauma to many communities” across the country. Indigenous representatives demand a formal apology from the Church. The discovery of mass graves in various states of Canada was widely reported in the local and then international press. In the country, it led to reprisals, in particular fires in a dozen places of Christian worship during the month of June.

The discovery of the mass graves acts as an electric shock for the Canadian Church and rekindles the need to continue a path of reconciliation already started since the 1990s. In 1992, Catholic officials had apologized to the natives after initial reports on the functioning of the boarding schools. An initiative followed in 1993 by an official apology from the CCCB.

In May 2008, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up by the Church to examine the functioning of its former schools. And, in the same spirit, Pope Benedict XVI had received at the Vatican on April 19, 2009, Chief Phil Fontaine, representative of the Assembly of First Nations. Finally, in 2016, the Catholic Church laid the foundations of the Cercle Notre-Dame-de-Guadalupe, a Catholic organization aimed at promoting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, an initiative that has since been deployed across Canada.

Faced with the astonishment and horror provoked by the discoveries of the mass graves last May, the CCCB announced, on June 10, the launch of “real significant actions” in favor of reconciliation with “the firm encouragement of Pope Francis”. Four days before, the Argentine pontiff, during the Angelus, had reacted to the “shocking news” and prayed for the bereaved communities, denouncing the suffering created by the “colonizing model” of the past.

A visit to the Vatican by a delegation of indigenous representatives, in preparation for two years, was then announced. The meeting, which will take place from December 17 to 20, is confirmed a few days later. Among the delegation will be residential school survivors.

Since then, the CCCB has decided, on October 24, to issue an official apology to the indigenous peoples: “We recognize the serious abuses that have been committed by some members of our Catholic community: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural and sexual” , they say in an unambiguous text. Strong words followed by concrete action, with the creation on October 27 of a $ 30 million fund to support the Healing Initiative.

It is in this dynamic that the personal involvement of Pope Francis comes. The announcement of his desire to come to Canada completes a desire to right the mistakes of the past.

Ref: https://fr.aleteia.org