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Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous people for "catastrophic" abuses of Christian residential schools

File image: Pope Francis in Canada
Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press via AP
Pope Francis is greeted by George Arcand, grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, as he arrives Sunday in Edmonton, Alberta.

Pope Francis has apologized for the Catholic Church’s cooperation with Canada’s “catastrophic” policy of Indigenous residential schools.

The pontiff says the forced assimilation of Native peoples into Christian society destroyed their cultures, severed their families and marginalized generations in ways still being felt today.

Francis spoke Monday near the site of a former Indian Residential School, on lands of four Cree nations south of Edmonton, Alberta. He said he begged forgiveness “for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.”

The long-awaited apology opens Francis’ week-long “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada, which is meant to help the church on its path of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and help victims heal. One school survivor and First Nations leader told the AP the apology “meant a lot to a lot of people.” Another called it validation that the atrocities and violence really happened.