Pope travels to Canada’s north, the last stop on apology tour

Reuters / 06:48 AM July 30, 2022

A person holds a protest sign as Pope Francis attends an event at Nakasuk School, in Iqaluit, Canada July 29, 2022. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Pope Francis’s plane landed in the Arctic territory of Nunavut on Friday, the last stop in his six-day visit to Canada to apologize to indigenous people for abuse in government schools run by the Roman Catholic church.

Earlier on Friday, Francis told indigenous leaders in Quebec City that he was pained that Catholics had supported “oppressive and unjust policies” against them.

Then he flew to Iqaluit, Nunvut’s capital, a city of 7,700 that sits among rocky hills overlooking Frobisher Bay, covered in ground-hugging purple flowers and the rare tree. Iqaluit, reachable only by plane or ship, is located too far north for trees to consistently grow.

It is the farthest north a pope has traveled since Pope John Paul II visited Tromso, Norway, in 1989.

In Nunavut, an Arctic territory Canada created in 1999 for the Inuit people, the Pope will meet privately with residential school survivors in an elementary school during a 2-1/2-hour stop.

A small crowd awaited the pontiff’s arrival at the school, while young boys played basketball on an outdoor court.

Charles Auksaq, 56, said he was abused by a Catholic priest as a boy, and is anticipating Francis’ arrival.

“He came to the North, I’m proud of it. He didn’t do anything to me. He’s the one trying to say sorry,” he said.

Tanya Tungilik, whose late father Marius Tungilik has said he was abused by Roman Catholic priests, hopes to ask Francis to help bring to justice clergy members who abused children, along with those who hid their crimes.

“I want to tell him the full effects of what his church has done to my father and to my family,” Tungilik said.

More than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools, which operated between 1870 and 1996.ADVERTISEMENT

Catholic religious orders ran most of the schools under successive Canadian governments’ policy of assimilation.

The children were beaten for speaking their native languages and many sexually abused in a system Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”

“I want to tell him that his apology is accepted and from this point on we will start healing and take our life back,” said Andre Tautu, 79, who said he was sexually abused in the church and elsewhere by Catholic clergy in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut. “Hopefully, our children will never ever receive this kind of treatment like we did when we were little kids.”

Tautu, part of a small group that will greet the Pope at the Iqaluit airport, said he turned to alcohol to deal with his trauma and mistreated his children. He has asked them to forgive him.

“I don’t have many more years to live, so I want to make sure my wife and children are happier in the future,” Tautu said.

After meeting with school survivors in Iqaluit, Francis will watch a public program featuring Inuit traditions such as throat singing and drum dancing, and deliver his last formal remarks on the trip.

Francis is scheduled to leave Canada for Rome at 6:15 p.m. Eastern time (2215 GMT).

Building pressure

The pope on Monday traveled to the Alberta town of Maskwacis, the site of two former schools, and issued a historic apology that called the Church’s role in the schools, and the forced cultural assimilation they attempted, a “deplorable evil” and “disastrous error.”

His pleas for forgiveness evoked strong emotions for many but fell short of what some survivors and indigenous leaders hoped for.

Since then, the pope has built on the apology, refering to both institutional failures and sexual abuse in subsequent speeches — addressing some of the grievances raised by survivors.

Tungilik and others specifically want the Pope to pressure France to extradite retired priest Johannes Rivoire, who faces a Canadian charge of sexually assaulting a young girl in the 1970s, and allegedly others, including Marius Tungilik.

Canada’s Justice Department confirmed this week that it has asked France to extradite Rivoire. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office has said that he discussed the Rivoire case with the pope during his private meeting on Wednesday.

In Iqaluit, the environment-minded Francis will visit a region that is a focal point of climate change, with sea ice retreating and altering fishing and hunting practices, and permafrost thawing.

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