Pope Francis on Friday apologized to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada for the "deplorable" abuses they suffered in Catholic-run boarding schools and said he hoped to visit Canada this summer to deliver the apology in person.
The pope begged for forgiveness while meeting with dozens of members of the Metis, Inuit, and First Nations communities who came to Rome seeking a papal apology and a commitment for the Catholic Church to repair the damage.
"For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask forgiveness of the Lord," Francis said. "And I want to tell you from my heart, that I am greatly pained. And I unite myself with the Canadian bishops in apologizing."
Pope Francis, who is the first pope from the Americas, said he hoped to visit Canada around the Feast of St. Anna, the patron saint of mothers, women in labor, and minors, which falls on July 26.
The president of the Metis National Council, Cassidy Caron, said the Metis elder sitting next to her burst into tears upon hearing what she said was a long-overdue apology.
"The pope's words today were historic, to be sure. They were necessary, and I appreciate them deeply," Caron told reporters in St. Peter's Square. "And I now look forward to the pope's visit to Canada, where he can offer those sincere words of apology directly to our survivors and their families, whose acceptance and healing ultimately matter most."
First Nations Chief Gerald Antoine echoed the sentiment, saying Francis recognized the cultural "genocide" that had been inflicted on Indigenous peoples.
"Today is a day that we've been waiting for. And certainly, one that will be uplifted in our history," he said. "It's a historical first step, however, only a first step."
Legacy of Abuse
More than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded religious schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes and culture.
The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant at the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages. That legacy of abuse and isolation from family has been cited by Indigenous leaders as a root cause of the epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction now on Canadian reservations.
As CBN News reported last July, at least 45 church buildings were reported set on fire across Canada following the discoveries of unmarked graves on the sites of former boarding schools for Indigenous children, many of which were run by churches.
So far, the remains of 1,350 bodies have been found since last May, most of them Indigenous children, according to Native News Online.
Nearly three-quarters of Canada's 130 residential schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations, according to The Associated Press.
The schools weren't just in Canada. The American Magazine, a Jesuit journal, reported that by 1926 there were 357 schools in 30 U.S. states with more than 60,000 children. Catholic religious orders in the United States administered 84 of the schools. Jesuits managed four of them.
Since Catholic orders carried out similar missions in the U.S., and U.S. funding was even given to them, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland ordered an investigation last June into the history of these schools and a search for graves of children who may have perished at them.
The Bible says that children are a blessing from the Lord. Do you have questions about children, parenting, discipline, or family life? CBN has wonderful resources for you!