By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
said he asked Pope Francis to help Canadians “move forward on a real
reconciliation” with the country’s indigenous people “by issuing an
apology” on behalf of the Catholic Church for its role in harming their
The prime minister spoke to a handful of reporters in Rome’s
Villa Borghese Park May 29 after having had a 36-minute private meeting with
Pope Francis at the Vatican.
“He reminded me that his entire life has been dedicated
to supporting marginalized people in the world, fighting for them,” the
prime minister said, adding the pope said that “he looked forward to
working with me and with the Canadian bishops to figure out a path forward together.”
The 2015 report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, which focused on past treatment of the indigenous communities and concrete
steps for a future of greater inclusion, included a recommendation that the
pope come to Canada to apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for its
participation in the residential schools for indigenous children.
While the idea behind the schools was to promote the greater
integration of indigenous communities into modern Canadian life, the schools —
many run by Catholic religious orders — led to a situation in which many
children were torn from their families, lost their native language and cultures
and often suffered abuse.
Trudeau told reporters he invited the pope to go to Canada
“in the coming years,” but added no further details about such a
The Vatican meeting, Trudeau said, was an opportunity to
have “a deeply personal and wide-ranging, thoughtful conversation with the
leader of my own faith.”
For its part, the Vatican issued a statement saying that the
prime minister’s meetings with the pope and with Cardinal Pietro Parolin,
Vatican secretary of state, included “the themes of integration and
reconciliation, as well as religious freedom and current ethical issues.”
Trudeau, who is Catholic, and the bishops of Canada work
closely on fighting climate change and on welcoming and assisting refugees,
especially from Syria. However, the bishops have sharp differences with the
prime minister over a variety of issues related to the sanctity of human life
and the family.
In early March Trudeau’s government announced it would “invest”
$650 million (US$483 million) over three years to provide abortion and other
services in the developing world. The president of the bishops’ conference,
Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton, Ontario, reacted by calling the policy
“a reprehensible example of Western cultural imperialism.”
The bishops also have been working diligently to promote palliative
care and a recognition of the sacredness of life of those who are dying as well
as the right of medical personnel to conscientiously object to participating in
practices they oppose on religious grounds. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled
unanimously in 2015 that people who are “grievously and irremediably
ill” have a right to medical assistance in dying.
After the closed-door meeting, Trudeau introduced his wife,
Sophie Gregoire, and his delegation to the pope before exchanging gifts with him.
Trudeau gave the pope an edition of the six-volume “Relations
des Jesuites de la Nouvelle-France,” a collection of 17th-century reports
from Jesuit missionaries in what is now Canada. Trudeau told the Jesuit pope
the volumes are an “essential tool for historians” in understanding
the early history of the country. He also gave the pope framed samples of a
Jesuit’s dictionary of Montagnais Innu, the language of an indigenous community
Pope Francis, appreciating the gift, told the prime
minister, “it was a custom of the Jesuits” to compile such
dictionaries when they began missions in new lands.
The pope gave Trudeau the gold medallion minted for the
fourth year of his pontificate (2016-17), which features an “embrace”
as “a symbol of forgiveness, joy and mutual acceptance,” according to
the Vatican’s description. It also refers to the passage from Matthew 5:7,
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Pope Francis is aware of the current situation in Canada and
the concerns of the bishops on all the issues mentioned by Trudeau to the press
and in the Vatican communique. From March to May Pope Francis spent hours
listening to the bishops, who made their “ad limina” visits to the
Vatican in four groups.
While all the bishops of Canada have not formally invited
the pope to Canada, during the “ad limina” visits several of the
groups explained the situation of Canada’s indigenous peoples, the history of
the residential schools and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation
Some of the bishops said they were told Pope Francis would
consider a trip in 2018 or 2019. A final decision would require input from the
whole Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in dialogue with the Vatican.
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