Pope Francis’ recent penitential pilgrimage and visit to Canada to meet with indigenous communities and to apologise for the role of the Catholic Church for abuses sustained by children in residential schools was a step forward. It was long overdue. Over the course of several days the pontiff traveled to various sites and expressed his heartfelt remorse over the past wrongs that Catholic clergy and laity had committed over the course of the 100 plus years that residential schools have operated in Canada.
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In May 2021, the remains of 215 children were discovered on the grounds of a former residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia. The gruesome discovery shocked many Canadians and confirmed what many indigenous leaders and people had been telling Canadians for decades-namely, that residential schools, many of which were operated by Christian denominations were and remain a tragedy of misplaced policies that sought to bring indigenous communities within the mainstream of Canadian life. Instead, residential schools removed children from their homes and parents and became a mechanism for discouraging the culture and language of indigenous communities. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Canada labeled the whole history of residential schools a form of cultural genocide. The treatment of indigenous people in subjecting them to the trauma of residential schools that started in 1879 and lasted until the mid 1990s is a deep stain upon the Canadian psyche.
For several years I have been fascinated with pilgrimages as a living metaphor for walking the spiritual path.