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How was the pope's 'pilgrimage of penance' received by Indigenous people in Canada?


Pope Francis is begging for the forgiveness of Indigenous survivors of residential schools that were once run by the Catholic Church. His first apology came in the First Nations community of Maskwacis in northern Alberta. Emma Jacobs was there.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Before the Pope had even spoken, volunteers were passing out packets of tissues to the residential school survivors and their family members in the audience. Some had traveled very long distances to witness this moment.

How many of you were on that bus that traveled two days?


JACOBS: Many had orange shirts or hats, a color worn to honor children who went to residential schools. Peppered among the audience - elements of traditional clothing. Songs were performed for the pope in Cree. Chief Wilton Littlechild, who introduced the pope, was barred from speaking Cree when he started at the nearby Ermineskin Indian Residential School at age 6 in 1951.


WILTON LITTLECHILD: We wish to acknowledge with deep appreciation and gratitude the great personal effort you have made to travel to our land.

JACOBS: The pope said he humbly apologized for the suffering children experienced in Catholic-run institutions and for the Catholic Church's role in efforts to erase Indigenous culture.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) I have come to your native lands to tell you in person of my sorrow, to implore God's forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

EVELYN KORKMAZ: I've waited 50 years for this apology. And finally today, I heard it.

JACOBS: Evelyn Korkmaz is a survivor of a Catholic-run residential school called St Anne's, where nuns physically and sexually abused children in their care. She said many friends and relatives had not lived to see the moment and had struggled with substance abuse after their time at the institution.

KORKMAZ: Part of me is rejoiced. Part of me is sad. Part of me is numb. But I am glad I lived long enough to have witnessed this apology.

JACOBS: Today, the pope will join worshippers on an annual pilgrimage to Lake St. Anne, outside the city of Edmonton, before traveling on to meet with more survivors in Quebec City on Wednesday.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Edmonton.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emma Jacobs