‘I want to tell you how very sorry I am’: Pope’s Iqaluit speech hews close to earlier apology

Pope Francis offered another apology on Friday, this time to Inuit survivors of residential schools, as he wrapped up his five-day Canadian visit with a brief stop in Iqaluit.

Speaking before a crowd outside a local elementary school, the Pope’s comments hewed closely to statements he made earlier in the week about the church’s role in the residential school system. 

Referring to the “indignation and shame that I have felt for months,” the Pope also referred to a private meeting he’d just had with some Inuit residential school survivors in Iqaluit. He thanked them for their courage to share their “great suffering.”

But he stopped short of apologizing for the church as a whole and its troubled history.

A woman hugs another person during the community event for Pope Francis outside Nakasuk Elementary School. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“I want to tell you how very sorry I am and to ask forgiveness for the evil perpetrated by not a few Catholics who contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation and enfranchisement in those schools,” he said.

The first Catholic church mission was built in Canada’s eastern Arctic in 1912, at Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, on the western shore of Hudson Bay. The community was later the site of Turquetil Hall, a Catholic-run residence for Inuit students, many of whom had been sent to the school from far away. Other Inuit children from the eastern Arctic were sent to Grollier Hall, another Catholic-run facility in Inuvik, N.W.T. 

Many cases of physical and sexual abuse have been documented at both locations.

Pope Francis’ comments in Iqaluit made no more direct reference to abuse at residential schools. Rather, he focused on the policies of forced separation of children from their parents, and the legacy of broken families.

Pope Francis asks for forgiveness in Iqaluit:

In Iqaluit, Pope asks for forgiveness for evil perpetrated at residential schools

After meeting with residential school survivors on Friday in Iqaluit, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the ‘evil perpetrated by not a few Catholics’ who contributed to policies of cultural assimilation. The Pope added that hearing survivors’ stories ‘renewed in me the indignation and shame that I have felt for months.’

“Stories like these not only cause us pain; they also create scandal,” he said.

“How evil it is to break the bonds uniting parents and children, to damage our closest relationships, to harm and scandalize the little ones!”

He also said he had come to Nunavut’s capital with a “desire to pursue together a journey of healing and reconciliation that, with the help of the Creator, can help us shed light on what happened and move beyond that dark past.”

The Pope also reflected on the resilience of Inuit culture, and the “beautiful relationship” between Inuit and the environment. Many people would consider the Arctic inhospitable, he said, but Inuit have come to “respect, cherish and enhance” their lands.

A woman, left, prays during a community event for Pope Francis outside Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit on July 29, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

He also made reference to the qulliq, a traditional seal-oil lamp used for both warmth and light.

“Even today, this lamp remains a beautiful symbol of life, of a luminous way of living that does not yield to the darkness of the night,” he said.

“That is what you are, a perennial testimony of the life that never ends, a light that shine and that no one has been able to extinguish.”

The Pope’s four-hour Iqaluit visit on Friday marked the end of his self-proclaimed “pilgrimage of penance” this week. The papal plane left the Iqaluit airport just after 8 p.m. ET, to return to Rome.

Support is available for anyone affected by residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

In addition, the NWT Help Line offers free support to residents of the Northwest Territories, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is 100% free and confidential. The NWT Help Line also has an option for follow-up calls. Residents can call the help line at 1-800-661-0844.

In Nunavut, the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-265-3333. People are invited to call for any reason. 

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