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Pope Francis ‘deeply sorry,’ asks for forgiveness for residential schools during Alberta visit

Click to play video: '‘I am deeply sorry’: Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors during historic Canada visit' ‘I am deeply sorry’: Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors during historic Canada visit
WATCH: "I am deeply sorry. Sorry for the ways in which regrettably many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples," Pope Francis said through a translator on Monday – Jul 25, 2022

Tears streamed down the faces of Indigenous elders and survivors of residential schools as Pope Francis stood before them and begged forgiveness for the “deplorable evil” committed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis, at his first public appearance in Canada in Maskwacis, Alta., said he was sorry the church took part in the cultural destruction and forced assimilation of Indigenous people.

“In the face of this deplorable evil, the church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children. I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous Peoples,” Francis said Monday through a translator at the community’s powwow grounds.

Read more: Full text of the Pope Francis’ residential school apology: ‘I am deeply sorry’

It was an apology that Evelyn Korkmaz, a survivor of the St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Ontario, had waited 50 years to hear, but she was left wanting more.

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Click to play video: '‘It meant a lot to me’: Indigenous people react to long-awaited apology from Pope Francis on residential school abuse' ‘It meant a lot to me’: Indigenous people react to long-awaited apology from Pope Francis on residential school abuse
‘It meant a lot to me’: Indigenous people react to long-awaited apology from Pope Francis on residential school abuse – Jul 25, 2022

“Part of me is rejoiced. Part of me sad. Part of me is numb,” she said.

Francis also received applause and cheers from many in the crowd of thousands as he said he felt sorrow, indignation and shame.

Others sat in contemplation with their eyes closed when the pontiff said the actions of the church were a “disastrous error incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Francis asked for forgiveness, in particular, for “the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities co-operated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.”

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Click to play video: 'Pope Francis apologizes in Maskwacis, speaks at Edmonton church during Alberta papal visit' Pope Francis apologizes in Maskwacis, speaks at Edmonton church during Alberta papal visit
Pope Francis apologizes in Maskwacis, speaks at Edmonton church during Alberta papal visit – Jul 25, 2022

The Pope spoke in Spanish, his first language, and it was translated into English by a priest. Translations were also available in several Indigenous languages.

He said begging forgiveness is the first step and there must be a serious investigation into what took place. He also called the overall effects of the policies linked to residential schools “catastrophic.”

Read more: Pope Francis in Canada: Translators to deliver apology in Indigenous languages

Following his apology, Francis returned a pair of moccasins to Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, a retired chief of Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan.

She had given the children’s moccasins to the Pope when an Indigenous delegation visited Rome earlier this year.

They were meant to represent children who never came home from residential schools and she had told the pontiff she expected him to return them when he came to apologize on Canadian soil.

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Click to play video: 'First Nations peoples react to Pope Francis apology in Maskwacis' First Nations peoples react to Pope Francis apology in Maskwacis
First Nations peoples react to Pope Francis apology in Maskwacis – Jul 25, 2022

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where neglect and physical and sexual abuse were rampant. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Eileen Clearsky from Waywayseecappo First Nation in Manitoba held photos of her mother and father during the Pope’s address. She said she wanted to honour her parents, who were both survivors, and to find healing for her family.

“It’s been a long journey to find out who we are because of the legacy that residential school has left behind for us to deal with,” Clearsky said.

Click to play video: 'Pope Francis’ visit stirs complex feelings among residential school survivors' Pope Francis’ visit stirs complex feelings among residential school survivors
Pope Francis’ visit stirs complex feelings among residential school survivors – Jul 24, 2022

Chief Wilton Littlechild gave Francis a headdress. The former member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission attended residential schools for 14 years as a child in Alberta.

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He said he hopes the Pope’s visit furthers a pathway of justice, healing, reconciliation and hope.

Jon Crier, a residential school survivor, questioned whether the Pope’s apology is enough. He said the church must now take action and lay out a plan to repair its relationship with Indigenous people.

Treaty 6 Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. said the Pope’s apology felt genuine but action around his words is needed.

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said the apology must be “the beginning and not the end.” He said more work must be done, including getting documents from the Catholic Church.

Earlier in the day, Francis held his own face as he was brought in a wheelchair to a graveyard in Maskwacis. Organizers said there are likely remains of residential school students among the graves.

The Ermineskin Indian Residential School was one of the largest residential schools in the country. Five teepees were set up at the location for the Pope’s visit — four representing the nations of the land in Maskwacis and the fifth as symbol of the entrance to the former school.

Organizers said sacred fires were also burning in communities throughout the country in solidarity.

Read more: Pope Francis arrives in Canada for trip focused on Indigenous reconciliation

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, as well as other political and Indigenous leaders, were at the event.

Click to play video: 'Indigenous elder on Pope Francis apology at his Edmonton church: ‘What a relief to hear those words’' Indigenous elder on Pope Francis apology at his Edmonton church: ‘What a relief to hear those words’
Indigenous elder on Pope Francis apology at his Edmonton church: ‘What a relief to hear those words’ – Jul 25, 2022

Later Monday, Francis echoed his comments of sorrow to members of the Church of Sacred Heart in Edmonton’s inner city.

“May this never happen again in the Church,” the Pope said. “May Jesus be preached as he desires, in freedom and charity.”

Read more: Pope Francis addresses Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton

The century-old church blends Catholic and Indigenous rituals. The pontiff sat in a chair placed at the front of the church under wooden teepee poles.

Francis also blessed a statue of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indigenous person to be canonized as a saint. He held the hands of elders, touching some on the head, as he was wheeled out.

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Click to play video: 'After papal apology, what is next in the reconciliation process?' After papal apology, what is next in the reconciliation process?
After papal apology, what is next in the reconciliation process? – Jul 25, 2022

Later in the week, the Pope is scheduled to host a large outdoor mass at the city’s football stadium and take part in a pilgrimage in nearby Lac Ste. Anne, before travelling to Quebec City and Iqaluit.

The visit from the Pope is going to be very difficult for a lot of people. If you or someone you know is a residential school survivor and is looking for help, you can call the Residential School Survivors and Family Crisis Line at 1-800-721-0066.

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Pope Francis visits Ermineskin Cemetery in Maskwacis, Alta., Monday, July 25, 2022. Global News
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Pope Francis will head to the provincial capital from Alberta for the second leg of his visit to Canada on what he's termed his pilgrimage of penance. (Global News). Global News
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The site in Maskwacis, Alta., Monday, July 25, 2022 as Pope Francis visits the area south of Edmonton. Global News
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Pope Francis arrives in Maskwacis, Alta., Monday, July 25, 2022. Global News
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Crowds gather to see Pope Francis speak in Maskwacis, Alta., Monday, July 25, 2022. Global News
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Pope Francis leaves with Indigenous peoples after praying in a cemetery at the former residential school, in Maskwacis, near Edmonton, Canada, Monday, July 25, 2022. Pope Francis begins a "penitential" visit to Canada to beg forgiveness from survivors of the country's residential schools, where Catholic missionaries contributed to the "cultural genocide" of generations of Indigenous children by trying to stamp out their languages, cultures and traditions. Francis set to visit the cemetery at the former residential school in Maskwacis. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia). AC
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Pope Francis is greeted by George Arcand, Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, as he arrives in Edmonton on Sunday, July 24, 2022. His visit to Canada is aimed at reconciliation with Indigenous people for the Catholic Church's role in residential schools.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette. NSD/
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Pope Francis in Maskwacis, Alta., Monday, July 25, 2022. Global News
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Pope Francis prays at a gravesite at the Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery in Maskwacis, Alta., during his papal visit across Canada on Monday, July 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
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Pope Francis adjusts a traditional headdress he was given after his apology to Indigenous people during a ceremony in Maskwacis, Alta., as part of his papal visit across Canada on Monday, July 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

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