• Pope Francis on Monday issued an apology on Canadian soil to the country's Indigenous community.
  • He begged forgiveness for the Catholic Church's involvement in the brutal residential school system.
  • Survivors in attendance cheered and applauded as Francis made his long-awaited apology.

Pope Francis on Monday issued a long-awaited apology for the Catholic Church's role in Canada's residential school system, which forcibly separated Indigenous children from their families and abused them.

"I am deeply sorry. Sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples," Francis said in Spanish, condemning the "cultural destruction" and "forced assimilation" that took place in the schools.

He called the residential school system, which ran from the late 1800s to 1997, a "catastrophic" policy and requested an investigation into the schools to allow survivors and their descendants to heal from the "deplorable evil" of the system.

Francis made his remarks near the sites of two former schools in Maskwacis, Alberta, during the first event of a one-week tour in Canada that he called a "pilgrimage of penitence."

"I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples," he said.

Hundreds of school survivors and community members attended the event, solemnly listening as Francis gave his half-hour speech and cheering when the pontiff apologized twice.

Later, they cheered again when Francis put on a traditional headdress that was gifted to him onstage.

Francis had previously apologized for the brutal treatment of Indigenous children in Canada's residential schools, which were mostly run by the Catholic Church. However, Monday's event was the first time that he had done so on Canadian soil while speaking in front of survivors.

Canada's residential school system involved around 150,000 Indigenous children who were removed from their homes and forced to assimilate into Euro-Christian society. The children were forbidden from speaking their native languages or practicing their cultural customs.

A 2015 government-sanctioned report on the school system found that many of the children were also sexually and physically abused at the schools and described the system as "cultural genocide."

In June 2021, First Nations communities discovered hundreds of unmarked graves on the sites of such residential schools. 

On Monday, a red banner with the names of missing Indigenous children was presented to Francis, who kissed it. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has for years urged Francis to apologize in Canada, also attended the event.

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