Warning: The story below contains details of residential schools that may be upsetting. Canada’s Indian Residential School Survivors and Family Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
Pope Francis has accepted an invitation to visit Canada, where he faces calls to apologise for the Catholic Church’s role in running residential schools in which thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families, robbed of their language and culture and subjected to sexual abuse, violence and malnutrition.
The Vatican said in a statement on Wednesday that Canada’s bishops had formally invited to visit the country as part of a “process of reconciliation” with Indigenous peoples.
The date for the trip will be determined at a later time, the Vatican said.
Fury about abuses at residential schools re-erupted earlier this year, after ground-penetrating radar was used to locate more than 200 unmarked graves of children who died at the church-run Kamloops Indian Residential School in western Canada.
Thousands more unmarked graves were subsequently discovered in other communities, prompting another apology from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month.
Residential schools, which were run by churches from the 1870s until 1996, were rife with physical, mental and sexual abuse, neglect and other forms of violence, and they created a cycle of intergenerational trauma for Indigenous people across Canada, according to the Canadian government-initiated Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
When he met the pope in 2017, Trudeau asked him to visit Canada to apologise.
Nearly three-quarters of more than 130 residential schools in Canada were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations. Others were run by the Presbyterian, Anglican and the United Church of Canada. The Presbyterian, Anglican and United churches have apologised for their roles in the abuse.
Francis was elected pope 17 years after the last schools were closed; he and has previously apologised for the Church’s role in colonialism in the Americas.
Under the residential school system, about 150,000 children were forcibly separated from their families in what the TRC in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.
Canadian bishops have acknowledged that grave abuses occurred and apologised in September, amid calls that surviving authorities who committed crimes at the schools face prosecution.
“The Bishops of Canada have been engaged in meaningful discussions with Indigenous Peoples, especially those affected by Residential Schools who have shared stories about the suffering and challenges that they continue to experience,” Raymond Poisson, president of the Catholic Bishops of Canada, said in a statement on Wednesday. “We pray that Pope Francis’ visit to Canada will be a significant milestone in the journey toward reconciliation and healing.”