Jorge Mario Bergoglio is an Argentinian, born in 1936; former Archbishop of Buenos Aires; current bishop of Rome and first non-European pope. He is the first pope born on the American continent and from the Jesuit community. On behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, he has just spent nearly a week in Canada apologizing to Indigenous survivors of colonialism.
An apology for collaborating in oppressive policies and cultural destruction of Indigenous peoples in Canada for more than 100 years, until 1996.
A methodical cultural destruction that Pope Francis now equates to genocide.
These apologies come thirty years after those of the Anglican Church. Residential school survivors had been hoping for them for a long time. Many have even already left this world.
The Catholic Church was however responsible for more than 60% of the boarding schools for natives. However, she had always refused to formally apologize for the role she played in this enterprise of cultural destruction.
On sensitive ground
Whether one is a believer or atheist, open-minded or closed-minded, it is easy to see that the posture of this first Jesuit pope is courageous. A courage that his predecessors in the Vatican will not have demonstrated.
Followers or fanatics of the European messianism of yesterday or today throughout the world, from the top of their arbitrary feeling of superiority, would rather see the approach of Pope Francis as an aberration.
With force and conviction, they would say: “After all, they were “savages”; they had to be civilized...”. Words also heard here and there, when it came to justifying colonialism in Africa.
With these, we are light years away from reconciliation.
That said, many indigenous people, survivors of colonial ideologies and policies, recognize in the Pope's act of penance, on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, a step in the right direction.
It is an essential act which is part of their collective or individual process of healing from past traumas and which allows them to become fully involved in the path of reconciliation.
Among the survivors, however, many remain skeptical about the tangible consequences of the hopes sown...
A building site
As Pope Francis said, an apology is only a “first step.” So there is still a lot of work to do.
Clearly, the bishops of Canada have taken notice. In a statement released last Friday, they say they heard from their Indigenous sisters and brothers, including about:
However, the 85-year-old Argentinian Jesuit's physical body is starting to give out. We wish him the strength to complete the project he has just started in Canada and Quebec.