Returning moccasins, Pope Francis apologizes for church role in residential schools

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The first step of Pope Francis’ “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada involved him returning two pairs of children’s moccasins. The little shoes were not among the Indigenous artifacts held in the Vatican Museums, but rather reminders that Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier of the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan had left with Pope Francis in March so he would think and pray about the children who went to residential schools and, especially, about those who never returned home.

On the treaty land of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, Samson Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and the Montana First Nation, near the former site of one of Canada’s largest residential schools, Pope Francis said, “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.” “The first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry,” the pope said July 25. “I am sorry,” he said again. “I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.”

The pope spoke in Spanish. When his words of apology were read in English, the crowd responded with applause. 

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