By Hannah Brockhaus
Pope Francis met with representatives of the Métis and Inuit indigenous peoples and the Canadian Catholic bishops during two hour-long encounters at the Vatican on Monday.
The meetings were part of a week-long visit of Canadian indigenous leaders to the Vatican, first organized for 2020, and then rescheduled in the wake of outrage in 2021 over the reported discovery of unmarked graves at the site of former residential schools in Canada.
Pope Francis will also meet with a First Nations delegation on Thursday, and on Friday he will address the three groups together.
Members of the Métis and Inuit peoples told journalists on March 28 that an apology from Pope Francis in Canada for the abuses committed at Catholic-run residential schools would be very meaningful.
Bishops described the meetings as “a listening time” and thanked delegates, who included former students of Canadian residential schools, for their graciousness and honesty with the pope.
Today’s meeting was “just one step forward in our journey,” said Cassidy Caron, Métis National Council president. “We’re looking forward to whatever [Pope Francis] intends to do when he comes to visit us in Canada.”
Pope Francis indicated in October last year that he would be open to making a papal visit to Canada, which he reiterated during the March 28 meetings. Although the trip has not been officially announced, Francis is expected to visit Canada this year.
According to a bishop who accompanied the Inuit delegation, the pope joked that he would prefer not to visit northern Canada during the frigid cold of winter.
Another request that came out of the meeting with the Métis was for access to records in Catholic dioceses or religious orders related to students of the residential schools.
A bishop clarified that there may be records in the mother houses of religious orders in Rome, but not at the Vatican.
Delegation members explained the desire to reconstruct their history and the stories of Métis people who were mistreated in residential schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some 150,000 children attended residential schools in the 100 years or so that they operated. The schools, many of them run by Catholic institutions, were a government-led program to suppress the native language and cultural practices of Indigenous peoples.
In the 1980s, former students began to reveal some of the abuses they faced in the schools, including physical, mental, and sexual abuse.
Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), said that the meeting with Francis included “a diversity of conversation.”
“The pope was welcoming and very thoughtful and very engaged throughout the entire encounter. We were very pleased with the way in which the meeting unfolded,” he said, noting that the delegates and the pope had conversations about faith and the Catholic Church, and the negative impact of residential schools in causing intergenerational trauma.
Obed said they also asked for the Catholic Church’s intervention in the case of Father Johannes Rivoire, a Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, accused of sexually assaulting children in Naujaat and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, in Canada, in the 1960s and 70s, who returned to France in 1993.
Obed explained that they asked the pope for help convincing Rivoire to face charges in Canada, or if he refuses, for intervention in having the priest extradited.
The Inuit delegation also gave Pope Francis several gifts, including two wood carvings, and a stole and rosary case made from seal skin.