OTTAWA (Reuters) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday he has asked the pope to come to Canada to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role running residential schools for indigenous children, after nearly 1,000 bodies were found in two mass graves.
“I have spoken personally directly with His Holiness Pope Francis to press upon him how important it is not just that he makes an apology but that he makes an apology to indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.
“I know that the Catholic church leadership is looking and very actively engaged in what next steps can be taken.”
Cowessess First Nation said on Thursday some 751 unmarked graves had been found at the site of Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan, just weeks after 215 unmarked graves were discovered at a former school in British Columbia.
The residential school system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, removed about 150,000 indigenous children from their families and brought them to Christian residential schools, mostly Catholic, run on behalf of the federal government.
A federal commission’s report found the residential school system enacted cultural genocide on Canada’s indigenous people.
“I have heard directly from many Catholics across this country who want to see the church play a positive role in this,” Trudeau added.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis stopped short of a direct apology but said he was pained by the discovery of the remains of 215 children and called for respect for the rights and cultures of native peoples.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; writing by Moira Warburton in Vancouver)