Pope Francis

In Canada, Pope Francis expressed “sorrow, indignation and shame” for the actions of many members of the Catholic Church who interned indigenous children in residential schools to assimilate them into Catholicism by separating them from family, language and culture. 

Pope Francis celebrated his first big Mass in Canada on Tuesday as reverberations echoed from his historic apology for the Catholic Church’s role in severing generations of Indigenous family ties by participating in Canada’s “catastrophic” residential school system.

Some 50,000 people filled Commonwealth Stadium and a smaller nearby venue for the Mass. They cheered as Francis arrived in a popemobile and looped around the track, stopping occasionally to kiss babies as Indigenous hand drums thumped.

But emotions were still raw a day after Francis visited a former residential school in Maskwacis to apologize for the “evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.”

Phil Fontaine, former chief of the Assembly of First Nations and a residential school survivor, urged the crowd to forgive in remarks delivered before Francis arrived: “We will never achieve healing and reconciliation without forgiveness,” he said. “We will never forget, but we must forgive.”

Negative reviews also came in. Murray Sinclair, the First Nations chairman of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, welcomed the apology but said Tuesday that it didn’t go far enough in acknowledging the papacy’s own role in justifying European colonial expansion and the hierarchy’s endorsement of Canada’s assimilation policy.

Francis didn’t dwell on the apology or the church’s fraught history during the Mass, which fell on the Feast of St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus and a figure of veneration for Canadian Catholics and Indigenous Catholics in particular. Due to knee problems, the 85-year-old pontiff celebrated the Mass from a seated position behind the altar.

In his homily, Francis urged young people to appreciate the wisdom and experience of their grandparents as fundamental to their very being, and to treasure those lessons to build a better future.

“Thanks to our grandparents, we received a caress from the history that preceded us: We learned that goodness, tender love and wisdom are the solid roots of humanity,” he said. “We are children because we are grandchildren.”