WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Pope Francis said on Sunday that he was pained by the discovery of the remains of on estimated 215 children an the grounds of a former residential school that was operated by the Catholic Church in Kamloops, B.C., and called for respect of the rights and culture of Indigenous people.
He urged Canadian political and Catholic religious leaders to “co-operate with determination” to shed light on the finding and to seek reconciliation and healing. Francis said he felt close to “the Canadian people, who have been traumatized by the shocking news.”
Speaking to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square, he stopped short, however, of the direct apology that many Canadians had demanded from the Catholic Church for its role in the residential schools, which operated between 1831 and 1996 and were run by a number of Christian denominations on behalf of the government.
“The sad discovery further raises awareness of the pains and sufferings of the past. May the political and religious authorities of Canada continue to collaborate with determination to shed light on that sad story and humbly commit themselves to a path of reconciliation and healing,” Francis said.
‘Move away from the colonizing model’
“These difficult moments represent a strong appeal for all of us, to move away from the colonizing model and also from the ideological colonization of today, and walk side by side in dialogue, in mutual respect and in the recognition of the rights and cultural values of all daughters and sons of Canada.”
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia announced on May 27 the discovery of what it believes to be the remains of an estimated 215 children buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The finding has reopened old wounds and is fuelling outrage in Canada about the lack of information and accountability.
The school was operated by the Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969. Church officials have so far resisted making public the records related to the school.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend church-run, government-funded schools between the 1870s and 1997. Many were subjected to abuse, sexual assault and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide.”
Francis spoke two days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Catholic Church must take responsibility for its role in running many of the schools.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.