The Bishops of Canada are thankful for Pope Francis’s historic visit to our country in order to keep his promise and to show by his presence his closeness to the Indigenous Peoples of the world. His visit represents a significant milestone on the path of healing and reconciliation.
In his various public and private addresses, the Holy Father offered heartfelt and solemn apologies to the Indigenous Peoples on behalf of the Catholic Church. He spoke of his admiration for Indigenous culture and spirituality, expressing profound sadness at the lasting impact of colonization and acknowledging the catastrophic consequences of the residential school system, while asking forgiveness for the abuse, including that of a sexual character, that had been committed by members of the Church.
Pope Francis called on us to continue to assist survivors and families in healing from the traumas they have suffered. We have heard this call and will be reviewing an updated action plan during our National Plenary Assembly this fall. It is our hope that the relationships forged in this planning process, particularly with Indigenous partners at both the national and local levels, will continue to grow well beyond this visit and serve as the foundation for the work that lies ahead. In conversations with our Indigenous sisters and brothers, we have heard:
- Calls for greater transparency in the preservation and disclosure of residential school records;
- Requests for support to address the issue of Indigenous artifacts housed at the Vatican Museum;
- A call for the affirmation of the inherent rights of Indigenous people and for the clarification of the historical policies and principles often referred to as the “Doctrine of Discovery”;
- An invitation to walk with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities in addressing systemic injustices that continue today; and
- An invitation to provide financial support for initiatives that advance healing and reconciliation.
The guidance provided by the recommendations above will be instrumental in our next steps, as we seek to walk together in this new path.
During our 2021 Plenary Assembly, the Canadian Bishops pledged to promote access to records, to educate clergy on Indigenous cultures and spirituality, and to continue dialogue with Indigenous communities and engagement with the Vatican regarding artifacts, as well as to commit $30 million for what would eventually become an Indigenous Reconciliation Fund. We are grateful to the Indigenous partners, governments and faithful Catholics who have helped us make meaningful progress on these commitments, while recognizing that much significant work still lies ahead.
Reconciliation is a journey that involves all of us, and the Holy Father’s presence has been a source of hope and inspiration for Canadians across the country. We would like to express our sincere thanks to the Survivors for their bravery and their openness to taking part in these encounters with the Holy Father and also to the Indigenous partners for their assistance in the planning process. We are blessed to have been part of this penitential pilgrimage, and we conclude this week with renewed hope in the process of walking together towards a better future.