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Opinion: After the papal visit, hope the journey of reconciliation continues

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As Pope Francis’ Canadian visit moves from the headlines to the history books, it’s important to recognize what was accomplished – and what opportunities were missed – from a historic encounter that was emotionally and politically supercharged.

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Facing expectations that were nearly impossible to meet, Francis received mixed reviews despite cheering crowds. Although there was great appreciation for his apology for the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools, many were disappointed that he avoided addressing his complicity in the massively disruptive processes of colonialism and domination. cultural.

As various criticisms emerge about this important visit, it is important to identify its productive results. A papal visit is a remarkable thing, and the country should be grateful for his visit. Francis is ill and has canceled further trips abroad; Having him make this trip was impressive, as he fulfilled his promise made to the Indigenous delegates at the Vatican earlier this year.

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Francis’ heartfelt apologies for the human devastation caused by residential schools made it clear that he had heard of Indigenous peoples. He spoke of the pain of the students, their mistreatment, and the multi-generational trauma of the residential school experience. He listened, learned, and then apologized with sincerity and commitment. While far from sufficient and too soon to know whether the wider Church will heed the Pope’s call to action, it was a vital, albeit too late, start.

The visit focused on Indigenous communities and involved meetings with Elders, leaders and Indigenous peoples. Perhaps most important – and it was largely missed in the national conversation – is that the pope was meeting with Catholics, including indigenous Catholics. It was a pastoral visitation between the head of the Church and its members, and should be seen in that light. For Catholics, the opportunity to pray with the Pope is of immense spiritual and personal significance.

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The visit drew much criticism. Many people wanted specific acts of contrition and compensation; they wanted the pope to pledge to uphold the Church’s promise of financial reward for damage to students and their families. Some hoped that the Church would sell some of the valuable properties to compensate former students. Others want church records opened for review and investigation into wrongdoing. Still others wanted the pope to travel to other parts of Canada to apologize in person to other Indigenous communities.

But perhaps the most disappointed are those who want the pope to acknowledge and apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in supporting European rule over large parts of the world. Indigenous commentators wanted the pope to publicly reject the “Doctrine of Discovery” that accorded intellectual and religious validity to centuries of European conquest and colonization – with good reason. Such a monumental statement would clearly recognize the Church’s complicity in legitimizing Europe’s expansionist aspirations and actions.

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Other Indigenous interpretative priorities – such as admitting that the Church supported colonization, defended the occupation of Indigenous lands, and attacked Indigenous cultures and traditions – have long been accepted by scholars and widely taught in schools, colleges and the universities. But concepts like the Doctrine of Discovery, which are only just beginning to be widely known, have yet to penetrate the consciousness of the nation.

For centuries, Christian churches have used Scripture to justify territorial conquest, cultural domination, and social and economic impoverishment. The Catholic Church was a servant of the state and of European commerce; Christianity provided cover for European expansion and the destruction of native cultures.

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The road to true reconciliation was never going to be easy. For many years, Indigenous peoples consistently told their horror stories as governments, churches and others insisted that initiatives like residential schools were constructive acts of kindness and generosity. Slowly and reluctantly the nation accepted that schools and other government and church policies had had devastating consequences, but it took decades for Canadians to come to terms with the indefensible abuses suffered by Indigenous children.

Pope Francis came to Canada to tell Indigenous peoples that he understands their pain. The sincerity of his apology is undisputed, but he has only just embarked on a path that will – hopefully soon – lead to a comprehensive understanding of how the doctrine of the Church has been fundamental to colonial expansion.

No one was able to deliver everything the indigenous people expected from the 2022 papal visit, but the journeys start with the first steps. Pope Francis welcomed them with prayer and determination, his words being received with attention by the indigenous peoples of Canada. Let’s hope the journey continues and all Canadians follow the example of Indigenous peoples in their quest for justice and understanding.

Ken Coates is a Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Aboriginal Affairs Program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and Canada Research Chair at the University of Saskatchewan.

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