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Pope departs for Canada to apologize over Indigenous school scandal

This photograph taken on July 23, 2022, shows crosses marking graves at the Ermineskin Cemetery near the site of the Ermineskin Residential School in Maskwacis, Alberta, on July 23, 2022, ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Canada. (Photo by AFP)

Vatican's Pope Francis has left Rome for Canada to once more apologize to Indigenous people subjected to abuse over a span of decades at residential schools run by the Catholic Church.

The Vatican ran Indigenous Residential Schools in Canada in the past two centuries with the aim of assimilating the native children into society.

About 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and taken to prison-like schools where they were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition. Many children died and were buried in unmarked graves.

The government-sponsored Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating the matter, in 2015 described the Church’s atrocities against First Nation, Inuit and Metis natives as “cultural genocide”.

The 85-year-old pontiff has described his Canada visit as a "penitential pilgrimage" of "healing and reconciliation" to personally apologize to the survivors for the Church's role in the atrocities.

In April, representatives of Canada’'s indigenous people met with Pope Francis in the Vatican, asking for an apology for the abuse and death of children in schools run by the Catholic Church.

The leader of the Catholics of the world, who has been suffering from a knee ailment and an inflamed ligament that has forced him to use a cane or wheelchair in recent outings, will be received officially upon arrival on Sunday at Edmonton's international airport by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

After performing a mass with tens of thousands of faithful in Edmonton on Tuesday, Francis will head 75 kilometers west of Edmonton to an important pilgrimage site, the Lac Sainte Anne.

Linda McGilvery, 68, from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation near Saint Paul, about 200 kilometers east of Edmonton said, "I wouldn't go out of my way to see him."

"For me it's kind of too late, because a lot of the people suffered, and the priests and the nuns have now passed on," said McGilvery, who spent eight years of her childhood in one of the schools.

"Being in the residential school I lost a lot of my culture, my ancestry. That's many years of loss," she told AFP.

Following a visit to Quebec City from July 27 to 29, Francis will end his Canada tour in Iqaluit, home to the largest Inuit population in Canada, where he will meet with former residential school students, before returning to Italy.

Some 44 percent of Canada's population is reportedly Catholic, while 18 percent is said to be Protestant. Muslims make up 3.2  percent of Canada's 38 million population.

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