Wednesday, April 29, 2009

He "Expressed His Sorrow": First Nations Meet the Pope

As previewed earlier this week, the Pope received a group of Canadian First Nations following this morning's General Audience in the hope of reconciliation amid the abuse inflicted on thousands of the community's members over several decades by church workers in government-run residential schools.

After the private session, the Holy See released the following statement:
At the end of the General Audience, the Holy Father met with Mr Phil Fontaine, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, and the Most Reverend James Weisgerber, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with those accompanying them, and he listened to their stories and concerns.

His Holiness recalled that since the earliest days of her presence in Canada, the Church, particularly through her missionary personnel, has closely accompanied the indigenous peoples. Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian Residential School system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity. His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations Peoples to continue to move forward with renewed hope.
...and the reaction:

Following the meeting, Fontaine, who is also a residential school survivor, called the Pope's words a "very significant statement."

While he said it did not amount to an official apology, Fontaine told CBC News he hoped the expression of regret would "close the book" on the issue of apologies for residential school survivors.

"The fact that the word 'apology' was not used does not diminish this moment in any way," he said. "This experience gives me great comfort."

Fontaine added it was important to note the delegation came to the Vatican at the invitation of Benedict himself.

"We never thought for a moment we would be here to be received by the Holy Father to talk about an experience that has caused so much pain and suffering with so many," he said....

The Pope spoke in Italian and had his words translated into English by an aide, said Edward John, grand chief of the Tl'azt'en First Nation in north-central British Columbia, who also attended the meeting.

John said the Pope acknowledged the suffering of those who are still living with the consequences of their experiences at the schools.

"I think in that sense, there was that apology that we were certainly looking for," John told CBC News.

In keeping with the Vatican's standard practice for papal encounters of an emotional nature, no still nor video recording of the meeting took place.

Reuters(1); AP(2)