Pope Francis will visit Canada as the Catholic Church seeks to rebuild bridges with the indigenous community following a horrifying scandal of abuse at church-run residential schools, the Vatican said Wednesday.
“The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has invited the Holy Father to make an apostolic journey to Canada, also in the context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples,” it said.
“His Holiness has indicated his willingness to visit the country on a date to be settled in due course.”
The Catholic Church in Canada in September apologised “unequivocally” to Canada’s indigenous peoples for a century of abuses at church-run residential schools set up by the government under a policy of assimilation.
The move followed the discovery of more than 1,200 unmarked graves at three sites where indigenous children were forced to attend the schools.
Pope Francis has expressed his “pain” at the scandal but has not gone so far as to offer the apology that indigenous leaders are still calling for.
Some 150,000 Indian, Metis and Inuit children were enrolled from the late 1800s to the 1990s in 139 of the residential schools across Canada, spending months or years isolated from their families.
Many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.
Today, while searches continue for more gravesites, those experiences are blamed for a high incidence of poverty, alcoholism and domestic violence, as well as high suicide rates, in indigenous communities.