Pope Francis on Monday heard first-hand the horrors of abuse committed at Church-run residential schools in Canada, as Indigenous delegations pressed him for an apology.
Indigenous, Metis and Inuit survivors are visiting the Vatican this week for meetings with the pope on how to move forward after the scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.
“The pope listened… (he) heard just three of the many stories we have to share,” Cassidy Caron, president of the Metis National Council, told journalists in front of St Peter’s Square.
The Catholic Church in Canada has apologized “unequivocally” to Canada’s Indigenous peoples for a century of abuses at Church-run residential schools.
Pope Francis has also expressed his “pain” at the scandal — but has not gone so far as to offer an apology himself.
“We really truly hoped that… (at) this meeting today, that the pope would listen… and hopefully bring an apology when he does arrive in Canada,” Caron said after her delegation met the pope.
According to Canadian bishops, Pope Francis has indicated a willingness to visit Canada, though no date has yet been set.
Caron said the pope had echoed the Metis’ request for “truth, justice and healing”, saying she took that as a sign of “a personal commitment.”
Pope Francis also held a private audience with representatives of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and is due to receive those of the Assembly of First Nations on Thursday, before a final group meeting on Friday.
Martha Greig, a member of the Inuit delegation who attended one of the residential schools, said it would be “really meaningful for him to do an apology.”
“There has to be a point of forgiveness from both parts. If you don’t forgive, you don’t forget,” she told a separate press conference.
Both sides “needed to work hand in hand so that our people can rise from all the hurt that’s been done to them,” she added.
Some 150,000 Indigenous, Metis and Inuit children were enrolled from the late 1800s to the 1990s in 139 of the residential schools across Canada, as part of a government policy of forced assimilation.
They spent months or years isolated from their families, language and culture, and many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers.
Thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect. More than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered since last May at the schools.
A truth and reconciliation commission concluded in 2015 the failed government policy amounted to “cultural genocide.”