For all the damage done by colonizers to the colonized in the course of human history, few world leaders have offered full, formal and public words of contrition to the victims. Which may explain why — though the trip was long anticipated — Pope Francis’ visit to Canada this week has stirred so much global attention. The papal trip has also brought a series of arresting visual moments.
Francis traveled to Maskwacis in Alberta on Monday, where he gave a sweeping and emotional apology to Canada’s Indigenous people, sitting in a traditional pow wow circle and acknowledging a terrible history.
“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Francis said. He added that he was “deeply sorry” for the Catholic Church’s role in fostering a “colonizing mentality” and for the “forced assimilation” that was a feature of church-run residential schools on Indigenous lands.
Beginning in the late 19th century, some of those schools became known for the abuse of Indigenous children, many of whom were forcibly separated from their families. In 2015, Canada’s National Center for Truth and Reconciliation described what had happened at these schools as “cultural genocide.” Last year, nearly 1,000 unmarked graves were uncovered on the old school grounds.
Pope Francis had apologized to representatives of Canada’s Indigenous people at the Vatican in April. This week, he did so in a more public way, to the broader community, on their soil. And he called for further investigations into what had happened there. “Begging pardon,” he said, “is not the end of the matter.”