VATICANCITY -Pope Francis will meet representatives of Canada’s native peoples this month to listen to their concerns following the discovery of bodies of children buried in church-run schools in Canada, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
A statement said the Pope will meet representatives of Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities on March 28 and 31, before holding an audience for all groups as well as Canadian bishops on April 1.
The schools, whose stated aim was to assimilate indigenous children, operated between 1831 and 1996 and were run by a number of Christian denominations on behalf of the government. The Catholic Church ran most of them.
Later this year the Pope is expected to visit Canada, where Indigenous people have asked that he personally apologise for the Church’s role in the schools. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said the Catholic Church must take responsibility.
The recurring scandal broke out again last year, when hundreds of bodies where discovered at former schools, leading to fresh demands for accountability.
Last June, Pope Francis said he was pained by the discovery of the remains of over 200 children at a former Catholic school for indigenous students, but stopped short of the direct apology some Canadians had demanded.
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”.