Pope Francis visits historic churches as he wraps Canada trip

Leader of Catholic Church's visit has focused on apology for institution's role in country's indigenous residential schools

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Pope Francis on Thursday will visit two of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in North America as he winds up a trip to Canada centred on his apology for the church's role in the country's notorious indigenous residential schools.

In the morning, the Pope presided over at a Mass at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre in the town of the same name about 30 kilometres outside Quebec City.

The oldest Catholic pilgrimage site in North America stands on the place where a small church was built in 1658 to house a statue of St Anne that French colonists considered miraculous. In the afternoon, he will preside over a vespers service in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Quebec City.

The visits to the two churches come on the penultimate day of his week-long visit to Canada, where he has several times issued apologies related to the schools, which operated between 1870 and 1996.

Shortly after his arrival in Quebec City on Wednesday, the Pope met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, the country's first indigenous governor general.

In public addresses in the Citadelle de Quebec, the largest British fortress built in North America, Mr Trudeau and Ms Simon pointedly told the Pope of the horrors of residential schools that the church ran for past governments.

More than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools. They were starved or beaten for speaking their native languages and sexually abused in a system that Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide”.

“As a dad, I can’t imagine having my children 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,” Mr Trudeau said.

“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.”

The Pope said the church is “admitting our faults” and wanted to join civil authorities “to promote the legitimate rights of the native populations and to favour processes of healing and reconciliation” between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians.

On Monday, the Pope travelled to the town of Maskwacis, the site of two former schools, and issued a historic apology that called the church's role in the schools, and the forced cultural assimilation they attempted, a “deplorable evil” and “disastrous error”.

On Tuesday, he said the church should accept institutional blame for the harm done to indigenous Canadians.

On his way back to Rome on Friday, he will stop for a few hours in Iqaluit in the Canadian Arctic, where he is expected to discuss the threat that climate change poses to indigenous communities.

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Updated: July 28, 2022, 4:41 PM