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‘Now I’m able to forgive’: Alberta residential school survivors speak out on Pope apology

Click to play video: '‘I ask for God’s forgiveness’: Pope apologizes for Canada’s abusive residential schools' ‘I ask for God’s forgiveness’: Pope apologizes for Canada’s abusive residential schools
WATCH: Emotions flowed through Indigenous delegates at the Vatican, as Pope Francis finally delivered a long-awaited apology for the Catholic Church's role in Canada's shameful residential school system. Crystal Goomansingh reports on the reaction, and what's being expected of the Pope now – Apr 1, 2022

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Mary Jane Tuccaro-Mitchell’s full name.

Survivors of Alberta’s residential schools are speaking out after Pope Francis issued a formal apology Friday for the harm caused by the harrowing system.

Mary Jane Tuccaro-Mitchell, who was a student at Holy Angel Indian Residential School, learned of the apology when she woke up Friday morning after following the trip to the Vatican on TV and online all week. She told 630 CHED she forgives the church.

“I do accept the Pope’s apology,” she said. “It’s going to make me healthy and I’ll go on with my life and not have to live in the past because I’ve done that so many times already.

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Read more: Pope Francis apologizes for residential schools at Vatican: ‘I ask for God’s forgiveness’

Holy Angel operated from 1900-1974 as a residential school on the outskirts of Fort Chipewyan, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Tuccaro-Mitchell was a student there for nine years from 1961-1970. She started there when she was five years old and said she spoke Cree when she started.

Mary Jane Tuccaro-Mitchell is pictured in Edmonton on April 1, 2022. Global News

Tuccaro-Mitchell said the students at the school suffered sexual assault and other abuse from the priests and the nuns.

She remembers being slapped while at the school.

“The scars, they have a story. They’re with me as I go on my healing journey.”

While at the school, she was assigned the number 35. She says she didn’t know what her name was while at Holy Angel.

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“It was all, ‘35 will do this, 35 will do that.’”

Read more: What led to the historic papal apology? How the Catholic Church has changed its tone

As a result of her experience, she left the Catholic church “a long time ago” when she was still young. She’s 66 now.

“It’s time to go on with life, and enjoy life, and not have that anger in my heart or take that to my grave or anything like that,” she said.

“I’m ready to just say, ‘You know what? It’s time to close the doors on the past.'”

Click to play video: 'Alberta residential school survivor’s message for other survivors after Pope’s apology' Alberta residential school survivor’s message for other survivors after Pope’s apology
Alberta residential school survivor’s message for other survivors after Pope’s apology – Apr 1, 2022

The apology comes at the end of a week of meetings with a delegation of Indigenous elders, leaders and chiefs from Canada.

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“All this made me feel two things very strongly — indignation and shame,” the Pope said Friday, before a packed room at the Vatican. “Indignation because it is not right to accept evil, and even worse to grow accustomed to evil as if it were an inevitable part of the historical process.

“All these things are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church — I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry.”

Chief Wilton Littlechild is one of the delegates in Rome. The lawyer and former MP is a former Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations. The residential school survivor has also served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Wilton Littlechild holds up a basket containing the ashes from the tissues used to wipe away tears from survivors as they told their stories at the commission. during the closing ceremony of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

He said he had tears in his eyes as he heard the Pope’s apology.

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“I hoped for it. I prayed for it. I dreamt for it,” Littlechild said. “But I never expected to live and see and feel it.”

The apology came on the Littlechild’s 78th birthday. He said hearing the apology on his birthday was special because during the 14 years he attended residential school as a child in Alberta, he was not allowed to celebrate.

READ MORE: ‘It’ll be very emotional’: Alberta Indigenous leader to spend his birthday meeting with Pope Francis

In an interview with Global News late last year, Littlechild said while the Pope had previously expressed regret over the church’s role in the residential school system, many survivors wanted to hear a more blunt apology — “I am sorry.”

“We need that opportunity to forgive,” Littlechild said at the time.

“For us, as survivors, to forgive — if we can find our place to forgive… then you begin to feel a sense of healing.”

In a statement, Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the apology is an important step.

He said he thought of Littlechild and wished him a happy birthday.

“I wish we could go back in time to tell that six-year-old who attended a residential school in Alberta, that one day he would be in the room, hearing an apology directly from the Pope, for all he has been through,” Sinclair said.

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READ MORE: ‘The story was hidden’: How residential school graves shocked and shaped Canada in 2021

Click to play video: 'Alberta Indigenous leader to spend his birthday meeting with Pope Francis' Alberta Indigenous leader to spend his birthday meeting with Pope Francis
Alberta Indigenous leader to spend his birthday meeting with Pope Francis – Mar 23, 2022

Outside St. Peter’s Basilica, Indigenous peoples from across Canada celebrated their resilience and survival in a jubilant round dance around the Vatican Obelisk. Church officials, tourists and Italians joined them hand-in-hand.

Click to play video: 'Inuit delegation leader says he was ‘extremely touched’ by Pope’s delivery of apology' Inuit delegation leader says he was ‘extremely touched’ by Pope’s delivery of apology
Inuit delegation leader says he was ‘extremely touched’ by Pope’s delivery of apology – Apr 1, 2022

The Pope also promised to come to Canada to visit with survivors on their land, but didn’t say whether another apology would be issued on Turtle Island.

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— With files from Elizabeth McSheffrey and Phil Heidenreich, Global News, and Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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.

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