The Pope in Quebec: “Yes, apologies, but they must be sincere”

The Pope in Quebec: “Yes, apologies, but they must be sincere ;res»


Indigenous delegations from across the province converge on Quebec City to attend Mass presided over by Pope Francis in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré on Thursday.

Just as he did in Rome last April, the Pope should issue both official and historic apologies to First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegations for the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools. By his own admission, the wrongs are numerous: physical and sexual abuse, family and cultural uprooting, prohibition to speak the language, not to mention the repercussions on the generations that follow.

“This is a moment that will not happen again. This apology is an important step in personal healing for many survivors. But we lost a lot along the way. Those who will be present will also receive apologies for those who are no longer there,” commented Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.

According to Abenaki ethnologist Nicole O'Bomsawin, the place of pilgrimage represents more than a symbol for the First Nations. “Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is a place that has been frequented by the First Nations for 1,700 years. It is a place of devotion and gathering. […] The apologies of the pope, I believe, will also restore the power to the natives, including that of living and practicing their culture, their traditional ceremonies, “explained the one who also acts as an accompanist of the Abenaki delegation. .

Limited places

The head of the Catholic Church will arrive in Quebec City on Wednesday and enjoy a walkabout on the Plains of Abraham. The speeches will be accompanied by Aboriginal artistic and cultural performances. Many see it as an opportunity to discuss the past, but also to forge ties for the future.

Some 10,000 places are available on the religious site and 1,400 inside the Basilica. Of this number, 70% are reserved for natives. “We have 42 passes and only 10 people can be seated inside. I find it ordinary. I wonder how we are going to choose!” lamented Johnny Wylde, survivor and coordinator of the elders of the Abitibiwinni community of Pikogan.

“There are people who travel hundreds of miles to get there and receive the apology in person. In addition to the fatigue of the journey, there is everything that these people carry within them. We want to be sure of the welcome they will receive,” added Ghislain Picard.

Accompanying persons are also part of the trip, whether to ensure the translation into the Aboriginal language or to provide psychological support to the survivors, for whom this historic encounter risks bringing deep trauma to the surface. The pope's speeches will be translated into 12 indigenous languages.

After the words, the gestures

Among the actions demanded, there is to provide unrestricted access to records pertaining to Church-run residential schools. In Canada, 150,000 Indigenous children visited these places, and, according to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, more than 4,000 died there.

“The Pope's apologies mean nothing to me. I would like him to give us the archives, the photos. We'll deal with it and do what we have to do. Everything that happened here at boarding school. I want to see everything in there,” said Johnny Wylde, referring to the Saint-Marc-de-Figuery boarding school, near Amos. The Abitibiwinni First Nation, now the owner of the site, has recently indicated its intention to go ahead with excavations on the site.

“A request for forgiveness yes, but it must be sincere. And that, it is only the survivors who will be able to take the measure,” said Ghislain Picard, AFNQL Chief.

A pardon that will not happen overnight

The Atikamekw spiritual guide and residential school survivor, Marcel Petiquay, has been invited to take part in the mass which will be pronounced by the pope at the basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. He preferred to leave his place. One who also suffered all kinds of abuse within the walls of the establishment run by the Oblates, after recovering from his problems of drug addiction and violence, one of the direct consequences of years of mistreatment and uprooting, has become spiritual guide and helper for other survivors. Thursday, he will therefore be with them.

“I still work a lot with survivors, including those who have suffered sexual abuse. I hope that the meeting with the pope will help us, perhaps, to now be able to work with the Church. […] Healing is a long journey. Forgiveness will not happen in just one meeting,” testified the Atikamekw elder from Wemotaci.

Like him, many survivors preferred to turn to Aboriginal ceremonies and ancestral rites to heal. and move forward. “You should not think that forgiveness will happen overnight. The consequences of the trauma experienced there are still very present. And many survivors still can't talk about what they went through,” added Mr. Picard, Chief of the AFNQL.