Pope calls for a stop to the colonisation of Indigenous peoples
Meeting representatives of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples victimised by forced assimilation, Francis asked for forgiveness for the abuses committed by Catholics in residential schools. For the pope, “It is chilling to think of the determined efforts to instil a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today met in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall with representatives of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis; peoples who were deeply affected by forced assimilation in residential schools.
In his address, the pontiff spoke about the “many forms of political, ideological and economic colonization [that] still exist in the world, driven by greed and thirst for profit, with little concern for peoples, their histories and traditions, and the common home of creation! Sadly, this colonial mentality remains widespread. Let us help each other, together, to overcome it.”
Between the end of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th century, about 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend government schools, administered by Christian religious orders, cut off from their families and their culture.
These schools sometimes saw abuse and degradation, with at least 3,200 children dying from malnutrition and disease. Pope Francis solemnly asked for forgiveness during the audience for such suffering.
In a series of private meetings over the past few days, representatives of these peoples also had the opportunity to express their own culture and spirituality through gestures and prayers under the frescoed vaults of the Vatican.
Francis acknowledged that “great harm was done to your identity and your culture, many families were separated, and great numbers of children fell victim to these attempts to impose a uniformity based on the notion that progress occurs through ideological colonization, following programmes devised in offices rather than the desire to respect the life of peoples.”
“Listening to your voices, I was able to enter into and be deeply grieved by the stories of the suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse that some of you [have] experienced, particularly in the residential schools.
“It is chilling to think of [the] determined efforts to instil a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas.”
The pontiff expressed “indignation and shame” for this, indignation because “without historical memory and without a commitment to learning from past mistakes, problems remain unresolved and keep coming back”; shame “for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values. All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness.”
Finally, Francis said that he hoped that these recent meetings “will point out new paths to be pursued together”. To this end, he urged Canada’s bishops and Catholics to take part in “a journey that can favour the rediscovery and revitalization of your culture, while helping the Church to grow in love, respect and specific attention to your authentic traditions.”
The pontiff also expressed the desire to meet with Indigenous people again and visit them in person in their lands, hopefully this year on the occasion of the feast of St Anne (July), who is greatly venerated among them.