Pope visits Nunavut for final apology of his Canadian tour - British Herald
August 11, 2022
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Pope visits Nunavut for final apology of his Canadian tour

Iqaluit (Nunavut)- Pope Francis travelled to the edge of the Arctic on Friday to deliver an apology to the Inuit people for the “evil” of Canada’s residential schools, wrapping up his week-long “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada with a dramatic visit to the remote territory of Nunavut to meet with school survivors.

Francis landed in Iqaluit, population 7,500, and met with former students at a primary school to hear first-hand their experiences of being torn from their families and forced to attend church-run, government-funded boarding schools. The aim of the policy, which was in effect from the late 1800s to the 1970s, was to sever children from their Native cultures and assimilate them into Canadian Christian society.

“How evil it is to break the bonds uniting parents and children, to damage our closest relationships, to harm and scandalize the little ones!” Francis told a gathering of Inuit youths and elders outside the school.

He thanked the school survivors for their courage in sharing their suffering, which he had heard for the first time this past spring when delegations of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples travelled to the Vatican to seek an apology.

“This only renewed in me the indignation and shame that I have felt for months,” Francis said. “I want to tell you how very sorry I am and to ask for forgiveness for the evil perpetrated by not a few Catholics who contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation and enfranchisement in those schools.”

Before his speech, the pope — seated in a chair covered in seal skin — watched Inuit throat singers and dancers perform. During his address, he said, “I’m sorry” in Inuktitut, the Inuit language, drawing cheers. And he ended by saying “thank you” in Inuktitut.

The events stretched far longer than planned; the pope’s plane took off for Rome about 90 minutes behind schedule.

The visit capped an unusual tour designed specifically to give the pope opportunities to apologize to generations of Native peoples for the abuses and injustices they suffered and to assure them that he was committed to helping them reconcile their relationship with the Catholic Church. After stops in Edmonton, Alberta, and Quebec City, Francis ended his pilgrimage in Nunavut, a vast territory straddling the Arctic Circle that represents the farthest north the Argentine pope has ever travelled.

Before his arrival, organizers readied scores of hats with mesh face protection to guard against the mosquitoes that sometimes abound in the mild summer temperatures of Iqaluit, some 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

The Canadian government has said physical and sexual abuse was rampant at the residential schools. On Thursday, Francis begged forgiveness for the “evil” of clergy sexual abuse, vowing an “irreversible commitment” to prevent it from happening again. His vow came after he omitted a reference to sexual abuse in his initial apology this week, upsetting some survivors and earning a complaint from the Canadian government.

Francis’ apologies have received a mixed response, with some school survivors welcoming them as helpful to their healing and others saying far more needs to be done to correct past wrongs and pursue justice. Several protesters appeared at the main event in Iqaluit with placards making demands of this nature.

The Inuit community is seeking Vatican assistance to extradite an Oblate priest, the Rev. Joannes Rivoire, who ministered to Inuit communities until he left in the 1990s and returned to France. Canadian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him in 1998 on accusations of several counts of sexual abuse, but it has never been served.

The Canadian government said this week that it had asked France to extradite Rivoire but did not say when. Rivoire has denied wrongdoing.

Francis heard from survivors in a private meeting, including one woman whose daughter died at a residential school; the woman and her husband have been searching for her grave for years. Another speaker was the daughter of one of Rivoire’s victims, who died after years of alcohol abuse, said Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for clergy abuse victims who have fought for years to bring Rivoire to justice.

The Inuit warmly welcomed Francis to their homeland and lit a ceremonial lamp, or qulliq, for the occasion.

Francis referred to its symbolic significance in his remarks, saying it dispelled the darkness and brought warmth.

“We are here with the desire to pursue together a journey of healing and reconciliation that, with the help of the Creator, can help us shed light on what happened and move beyond that dark past,” Francis said

Directing himself to younger generations, Francis urged them, too, to choose light rather than dark, to keep hopes alive, aim high and protect the environment. He stressed the value of teamwork, recalling the successes of Canada’s beloved national sport of ice hockey.

Jimmy Lucassi, an Inuit from Iqaluit, was at the school grounds for Francis’ visit along with his wife and children. “It probably means a lot to many people,” he said. “It’s all we’ve been talking about. They closed the stores to celebrate.”

The trip was the first in which the 85-year-old pope was forced to use a wheelchair, walker and cane because of painfully strained knee ligaments that forced him to cancel a trip to Africa earlier this month. Even with a reduced schedule, the trip was uncomfortable for Francis, and he has said he felt “limited” by his inability to move about as he pleases freely.

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