POPE Francis issued a historic apology for the “catastrophic” policy of indigenous residential schools and the forced assimilation of native peoples into Christian society.
“I am deeply sorry,” he said to applause from school survivors and indigenous community members gathered at a former residential school south of Edmonton, Alberta, on Monday.
“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples,” he said.
The religious leader said the school policy was a “disastrous error” that was incompatible with the gospel and called for further investigations.
He is on a week-long “penitential pilgrimage,” travelling to the lands of four Cree nations on the first day of his tour on Monday.
Pope Francis prayed at a cemetery before delivering his apology at a powwow ceremonial ground nearby.
More than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend government-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s as part of efforts to “Christianise” them.
But sexual and physical abuse was rampant and hundreds of potential burial sites at former schools have been discovered in the past year.