04 August 2022, The Tablet

Why the Pope's apology in Canada was so significant

The Pope’s remarks should trigger a wider reflection.

Why the Pope's apology in Canada was so significant

Pope Francis and Chief Wilton Littlechild in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
CNS/Vatican Media


The encounters between Pope Francis and First Nation representatives in Canada were among the most moving of his papacy. He clearly felt deeply and personally the violations of human dignity inflicted on the Indigenous tribes of North America by white colonial settlers. At the behest of the Canadian authorities, many children had been taken away from their families, separated from their culture and language and converted – that is to say, coerced – into Christianity. Some of them were abused, psychologically, physically and sexually.

Something similar was happening the length and breadth of the American continent, north and south, reflecting an unthinking consensus among European colonialists that already existing customs and beliefs had no value, and could and should be overwritten by their cultures and prejudices. Jesuit missionaries were among the few who rejected this approach. That automatic assumption of cultural superiority was untenable, Francis said last week, and the Church repented of it and asked forgiveness.

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