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Pope Francis spoke to indigenous people on the outskirts of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on Monday, apologizing on behalf of the Catholic Church for the oppression and “forced assimilation” and mistreatment of children in religious residential schools. .
More than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and placed in residential schools between 1881 and 1996. Several children were allegedly starved, beaten and sexually abused.
“I am sorry. I apologize, in particular, for the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, especially through their indifference to the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the era, culminating in the residential school system,” Pope Francis said.
Canadian leaders have been aware of the many children dying in schools since 1907, but the incidents drew more attention after last year’s discoveries of what appeared to be unmarked graves in or near former residential schools.
POPE FRANCIS TRAVELS TO CANADA TO APOLOGIZE FOR ABUSE AGAINST INDIGENOUS PEOPLE IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
The Catholic Church of Canada says its dioceses and religious orders have provided more than $50 million in cash and in-kind contributions, and expect to add a further $30 million over the next five years.
The pope called his trip a “penitential pilgrimage.”
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“I have come to your homelands to tell you my pain in person. To implore God’s forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. To express my closeness to you and pray with you and for you,” he said.
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The Pope’s speech took place on the grounds that were once home to the Ermineskin Indian Residential School, but now have a school run by four local Cree nations.
Thousands of the tickets were reserved for indigenous survivors of the residential schools. Indigenous leaders at Treaty 6, the place Francis is visiting in Alberta, said they were overwhelmed with requests from survivors who want to attend the event.
Fox News Landon Mion, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.