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Canadian Indigenous delegates from the Métis National Council pose for a photo after an encounter with journalists after meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican March 28, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Members of the Métis National Council gave Pope Francis a set of beaded moccasins and asked him to walk with them on the path of truth, justice and healing of Canada’s Indigenous communities and their relationship with the Catholic Church, said Cassidy Caron, president of the council.

Led by two fiddlers, the delegates walked from under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square to a prearranged spot where dozens of reporters waited to hear about their meeting March 28 with Pope Francis.

The delegates from the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami had separate meetings with the pope March 28. The delegation from the Assembly of First Nations was scheduled to meet him March 31.

The delegations’ trip to Rome gave them an opportunity to explain to Pope Francis how the communities live and struggle today and how the Catholic Church contributed to those struggles.

The delegations’ trip to Rome, accompanied by six Canadian bishops, was designed to give them an opportunity to explain to Pope Francis how the communities live and struggle today and how the Catholic Church and its institutions contributed to those struggles, especially by running residential schools where the Indigenous languages and cultural expressions were banned and where many students experienced abuse.

Before their meetings, leaders of all the groups said they want an apology from the pope for the Catholic Church’s role in running the schools. About 60 percent of the 139 schools across Canada were run by Catholic religious orders or dioceses. According to the government, which funded the schools, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend the schools between the 1870s and 1997.

The groups want Pope Francis to go to Canada and publicly apologize there for the church’s treatment of Indigenous peoples and its collaboration with colonizers. The Vatican has said Pope Francis is willing to make the trip, although it has not said when.

The three groups together, along with family members and supporters, were to meet again with the pope April 1 to hear his response to what they had shared.

The groups want Pope Francis to go to Canada and publicly apologize there for the church’s treatment of Indigenous peoples and its collaboration with colonizers.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis also want “unfettered access” to the records of the church-run schools, said Caron, president of the Métis organization.

She led her community’s meeting with the pope wearing a jacket with traditional beading that had been given to her for the occasion.

She said three of the delegates, survivors of residential schools, shared their stories with the pope. They “did an incredible job of standing up and telling their truth. They were so brave and so courageous.”

“We invited Pope Francis and Catholics all around the world to join us, the Métis nation, on our pathway of truth, justice and healing, and we hope that in committing to us, committing to real action, that the church can finally begin its own pathway toward meaningful and lasting reconciliation,” Caron told reporters.

After Pope Francis had spent about an hour each with the Métis and Inuit delegations, the pope had wanted to listen and “to create space for painful stories brought by the survivors.”

“The only words he spoke back to us in English ... were ‘truth, justice and healing’ and I take that as a personal commitment,” she said. “So, he has personally committed to those three actions.”

Too many members of the community have already died “without ever having their truths heard and their pain acknowledged,” she said. The time to acknowledge what happened and to apologize is “long overdue, it is never too late to do the right thing.”

After Pope Francis had spent about an hour each with the Métis and Inuit delegations, the Vatican press office said, the pope had wanted to listen and “to create space for painful stories brought by the survivors.”

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