Pope Francis arrived Sunday in Canada, where he met personally with the Indigenous survivors to apologize for abuse committed over a span of decades at residential schools run by the Catholic Church.
He was welcomed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, the country’s first Indigenous governor general, as well as Indigenous leaders in an airport ceremony that began with drums and chanting.
Afterwards, Francis received welcome gifts from Indigenous leaders, shaking or kissing their hands and making conversation with each before the short ceremony ended.
The 85-year-old pontiff’s Canada visit is primarily to apologize to survivors for the Church’s role in the scandal that a national truth and reconciliation commission has called “cultural genocide”.
From the late 1800s to the 1990s, Canada’s government sent about 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children into 139 residential schools run by the Church, where they were cut off from their families, language and culture.
Many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers.
Thousands of children are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.
Since May 2021, more than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered at the sites of the former schools.
A delegation of Indigenous peoples travelled to the Vatican in April and met the pope — a precursor to Francis’ six-day trip — after which he formally apologized.