A Manitoba Indigenous leader will be travelling to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis this winter.
Phil Fontaine — former grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and three-time national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) — has been selected to represent Manitoba at a First Nations delegation to sit down with the pontiff in December.
“Mr. Fontaine will participate in discussions regarding reconciliation with First Nations for the role of the Catholic Church in the administration of the former Indian Residential Schools,” said AFN Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse, “and the need for an official apology from the Pope on behalf of the Catholic Church.”
Fontaine, 77, is himself a survivor of abuse at a Manitoba residential school, and has been a prominent voice for decades in raising awareness about the traumatic experiences children faced at government- and church-run facilities across Canada.
He will be in Rome with other Indigenous leaders from Dec. 17 to 20.
Last month, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops apologized “unequivocally” for abuses committed by members of the church community who were involved in running residential schools.
The bishops have pledged to provide records that could help memorialize the students believed to be buried in unmarked graves, raise money for initiatives endorsed by Indigenous leaders, and work on getting the Pope to visit Canada.
A number of the 94 calls to action set out by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission involve the Catholic Church, including call to action No. 58, which asks for the Pope to issue an apology to survivors and their families for the church’s role spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse at residential schools — and for the Pope to deliver that apology in Canada.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.