Remarks welcoming the Pope at the Citadelle of Quebec
I am very happy to be here with you today and to say a few words of introduction.
I would like to begin by thanking the First Nations who have used and occupied this land for millennia for welcoming us to their traditional and treaty territory.
As we welcome His Holiness this week, it’s important to reflect on the significance of this moment for Survivors, for Indigenous peoples, and indeed for all Canadians.
Yesterday, July 26, was the Feast of Saint Anne. Saint Anne is an important figure for Catholics. She represents maternal love. She also represents family. Family is our roots. It’s what helps us to grow and to discover the world. And family was the first thing that was taken away from the children who were sent off to residential schools.
When I visited Tk’emlúps, Cowessess, and Williams Lake; when I speak with Survivors and with families; I think of the children, and I think of the parents, too.
As a dad, I can’t imagine my kids being taken away. When my kids are crying, I can console them. When they’re happy, I can share that feeling of joy with them, of accomplishment. But in residential schools, these children were alone and isolated in their pain and sorrow, far from their families and communities and, even worse, stripped of their language, their culture, their identity.
A profound solitude.
The loss of not only family and community, but also their language, their culture and their identity.
Since the 2015 publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis have been calling on the Pope to apologize to the Survivors, to their families, and to the communities. To apologize for the role that the Roman Catholic Church as an institution played in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse that Indigenous children suffered in the residential schools run by the Church.
This week’s event in Maskwacîs would not have been possible without the courage and perseverance of the Survivors who shared their painful memories and spoke of their experiences, including directly to the Holy Father himself.
Your Holiness, in our previous conversations from the first time we spoke about this, you always offered your time, genuinely seeking to understand, to do right, and to atone. This week, you recognized the abuses experienced at residential schools that resulted in cultural destruction, loss of life, and ongoing traumas lived by Indigenous peoples in every region of the country. As Your Holiness has said, begging pardon is not the end of the matter. It is a starting point. A first step.
On Monday morning, I was sitting with Survivors, and I felt their reaction to your apology. Each will take from it what they need, but there’s no doubt that you had an enormous impact. Survivors and their descendants need to be at the centre of everything we do going forward.
In April, Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine was at the Vatican, and he compared the moment to the experience of walking through the snow and seeing fresh moose tracks: it was a feeling of hope. Today, I want to say, let’s all continue our work together to keep this hope alive.
When I went to the Vatican, five years ago now, I went to discuss the subject of residential schools and reconciliation with Your Holiness, and I know that your presence here this week would not have been possible without your personal convictions and your integrity.
Thank you for coming with an open heart.
We all recognize that the residential school system tried to assimilate children. Today, Indigenous peoples continue to fight to defend and preserve their culture and their languages. The traditional gathering that took place in Maskwacîs is a very good example of this. We are all responsible for reconciliation. It is our responsibility to see our differences not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity to learn, to better understand each other, and to act.
Our Governor General talks often about how reconciliation is not a single act but a lifetime journey of healing. This journey is different for everyone. I spoke about Saint Anne being a symbol of maternal love and family, but Saint Anne is also a symbol of healing. Tomorrow, Your Holiness will visit Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. Pilgrims have been travelling there for centuries to pray and to ask Saint Anne to help them heal.
So, in the spirit of healing, let us never give up. Canadians, institutions, let us continue our work together with Indigenous peoples until we reach a better future for everyone.
Merci. Thank you. Gracias.