Pope Francis was scheduled to fly to Nunavut on Friday, the area covering most of Canada’s Arctic, on the final stop of a landmark tour during which he apologized for the abuse of Indigenous children in Catholic-run schools.
The 85-year-old pope first addressed a delegation of indigenous peoples in Quebec City, where he told them he “returned home very enriched… I also feel like part of your family.”
He is later said to travel to the capital of the vast Northern Territory, Iqaluit, meaning “the place of many fishes”.
There he will first meet with survivors of the boarding school system that has separated Indigenous children from their families, language and culture to eradicate their identity, before appearing at an Inuit public event.
Residents of Iqaluit, where small houses line the rocky seashore, have listened carefully to the Pope’s words on his journey so far.
“It won’t solve anything but an apology to the world, it means a lot to us. It does,” Elisapee Nooshoota, 36, stay-at-home mother of Iqaluit, told AFP in the community of just over 7,000 people on Thursday.
– ‘Should do more’ –
From the late 1800s through the 1990s, the Canadian government sent about 150,000 children to 139 boarding schools run by the Catholic Church. Many were physically and sexually abused, and thousands are believed to have died from disease, malnutrition, or neglect.
The pope began his trip to Canada on Monday with an apology for the abuse.
While survivors say his words were overwhelming, many have made it clear that they see the apology as just the beginning of a healing and reconciliation process.
“They should be doing more by providing counseling, wellness centers and recovery,” said Iqaluit resident Israel Mablick, a 43-year-old survivor of one of the schools.
Others have pointed out that the Pope has yet to specifically mention the sexual abuse of First Nations, Metis and Inuit children in his comments – a criticism echoed by Iqualuit residents.
Kilikvak Kabloona, executive director of an organization representing the Inuit in Nunavut, said Francis “did not recognize the role of the Roman Catholic institution in protecting abusers.”
“This protection allows sexual violence to thrive, and we expected an apology for the sexual abuse,” she said.
The pope is also expected to be asked again to intervene in the case of a fugitive French priest, Johannes Rivoire, 93, who was accused of sexually abusing Inuit children in Nunavut decades ago before fleeing to France.
Earlier this year, Canadian police issued a new arrest warrant for him, and an Inuit delegation at the Vatican asked Francis to intervene personally.
“The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and … he must be able to demand that Rivoire face his charges,” Kabloona said.
“We want Rivoire extradited to Canada to face his charges.”
The spiritual leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics began his six-day journey in western Canada before heading to Quebec.
In Quebec City on Friday, Francis also alluded to his own health, explaining, “I have come as a pilgrim, despite my physical limitations, to take further steps forward with you and for you.”
Because of pain in his right knee, the pope spent most of his trip to Canada in a wheelchair.
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