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“The Vatican is close to the Natives and listens to them”

VATICAN CITY – “Listening and closeness”: this is how the Vatican defined the meeting held this morning between Pope Francis and a group of about twenty indigenous of the First Nations, accompanied by some Canadian bishops. Tomorrow, however, the Pontiff’s final audience is scheduled with the three groups he met in these days: First Nations, Métis and Inuit. 

As Vatican News reports, at the end of the conversation with the Pope, the group of indigenous people, dressed in traditional costume, met with the press outside St. Peter’s Square to tell the details of the morning. “It is a special day” began Gerald Antonie, regional head of the indigenous peoples of the First Nations, confirming that Pope Francis has listened to their words.

“What happened should not have happened – he continued – : we want to tell you our truth”. The reference is to the case of mass graves found in some residential schools in Canada established between the end of the 19th century and the last decades of the 20th century, when the Canadian government decided to organize structures throughout the country to “assimilate” culturally indigenous children. The schools were entrusted to local Christian churches, including the Catholic one. And it was precisely in these schools that the children were often mistreated and abused. The case, already known, re-emerged with all its drama last year, following the discovery of a mass grave in the Kamloops Indian Residential School. That “discovery” was followed by others.

Hence, the request to the Pope to go to Canada to apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for what happened in residential schools and the need to proceed together on a path of reconciliation started last June after the immediate “mea culpa” of the bishops Canadians.

During his speech, Gerald Antonie also recalled the special relationship that the indigenous have with Mother Earth, “a very special Mother, the Earth – he explained – is our home”. A house to protect, as Pope Francis has emphasized several times, for this reason it is necessary “to work together because we do not have much time left”.

On Monday, the Pope, in two different audiences, had received the representatives of Métis and Inuit peoples who in the meeting with the press, in the same way as today, had reiterated the need for “truth, justice, healing and reconciliation”.

“The recognition, the apologies, the atonement – said Cassidy Caron, the young president of Métis – are very late, but it is never too late to do the right thing”. And then she added that the meeting with the Pope was “only the beginning of a long journey to be made all together, including governments”. From the Inuit delegation, Martha Greig confessed to having told the Pope that “people need to heal. I invited him to come to Canada, it would mean a lot to the former residents and their families”.

A trip that the Vatican had actually already announced, before the series of meetings with the Natives, but which has not yet been confirmed. Today’s final meeting with all the delegates could be an opportunity to make the official announcement.

In the pic, Pope Francis with the First Nations delegation today in Vatican where the last meetings with the Natives will be held tomorrow (photo: Vatican News)

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