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Pope Francis said on Sunday that he was pained by the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former Catholic school for indigenous students in Canada and called for respect for the rights and cultures of native peoples.
However, Francis stopped short of the direct apology some Canadians had demanded. Two days ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Catholic Church must take responsibility for its role in running many of the schools.
Indigenous leaders and school survivors said the Church needed to do much more.
"We're all pained and saddened. Who isn't?" said Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan.
Speaking to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square for his weekly blessing, Francis urged Canadian political and Catholic religious leaders to "cooperate with determination" to shed light on the finding and to seek reconciliation and healing.
Francis said he felt close to "the Canadian people, who have been traumatized by the shocking news".
The residential schools operated between 1831 and 1996 and were run by a number of Christian denominations on behalf of the government. Most were run by the Catholic Church.
The discovery last month of the remains of the children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, which closed in 1978, has reopened old wounds and is fuelling outrage in Canada about a lack of information and accountability.
"The sad discovery further increases the understanding of the pain and suffering of the past," Francis said.
"These difficult moments represent a strong reminder for all of us to distance ourselves from the model of colonizer ... and to walk side by side in dialogue and in mutual respect in the recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the sons and daughters of Canada," he said.
The residential school system forcibly separated about 150,000 children from their homes. Many were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called "cultural genocide".
"Let us commend to the Lord the souls of all of the dead children in the residential schools of Canada and let us pray for the families and the native communities of Canada shattered by pain," he said, before asking the crowd to join him in silent prayer.
Francis, who was elected pope 17 years after the last schools was closed, has already apologised for the Church's role in colonialism in the Americas.
But he has mostly chosen to make direct apologies while visiting countries and talking to native peoples. No papal visit to Canada is scheduled.
Visiting Bolivia in 2015, Francis apologised for the “many grave sins (that) were committed against the native people of America in the name of God”.
“We’re all pained” - Canada indigenous leaders dismiss Pope remarks
Indigenous leaders and school survivors on Sunday dismissed Pope Francis’ expressions of pain at the discovery of 215 children’s remains at a former Catholic residential school in Canada, saying the church needed to do much more.
In his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Francis said he was pained by the news about the former school for indigenous students and called for respect for the rights and cultures of native peoples. But he stopped short of the direct apology some Canadians had demanded.
"We're all pained and saddened. Who isn't? This is a worldwide travesty," Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan, Bobby Cameron, told Reuters.
"How hard is it for the Pope to say: 'I'm very sorry for the way our organization treated the First Nations people, the First Nations students during those times, we are sorry, we pray.'"
Kamloops survivor Saa Hiil Thut, 72, said people have not been held responsible for the suffering he endured during his years at the school.
"The culprits sort of get off scot-free," he said.
"The Pope won't say, 'You know what? I heard there was (thousands of) cases of physical and sexual abuse in those residential schools run by our church.' He won't say that. He won't say 'There's 215 children in an unmarked grave in Kamloops and probably every residential school in Canada.'"
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday the church must take responsibility for its role in the schools. A spokesman for Trudeau declined further comment on Sunday.
The Pope's statement "does not go far enough," said a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett on Sunday.