Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir said she was surprised Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.
The pontiff made the apology on April 1, with some 190 Indigenous representatives, young and old, at the Vatican.
“I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon,” Pope Francis said.
Casimir was one of 32 Indigenous delegates between groups representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations visiting Vatican City and meeting the pope last week to discuss reconciliation for residential school abuses.
Casimir and 12 other Assembly of First Nations (AFN) representatives met Pope Francis on March 31.
Though an apology from the pope was one of the delegation’s objectives, Casimir said she wasn’t expecting to hear it.
Following the AFN meeting, however, Casimir said she felt Pope Francis listened, took time to reflect on their messages and felt compelled to make the apology.
“[I’m] truly honoured that he listened and he heard and to be able to witness that as well,” Casimir said.
Casimir said the trip, for her, was about making steps toward reconciliation while seeking justice, noting she was honoured to bring forth the messages of her people, residential school survivors and the missing children of residential schools.
The pope’s apology was one step forward and gives her people hope, Casimir said, adding that with residential school survivors now passing away at elderly ages, they need to hear words of accountability.
Casimir said the AFN delegation made a presentation during its meeting with the pope, which lasted about two hours, with a translator present.
“When we met with the pope, he really took the time to share with us his appreciation for how we feel and care for the land,” Casimir said.
“He truly listened to our voices and he shared with us that he had such shame for what had happened [at residential schools] and he said he was very sorry and what happened was deplorable.”
Casimir said when she spoke with Pope Francis, she talked about the impact a meaningful apology would have, as well as how meaningful it would be to welcome him to her community.
During their meeting, Casimir, as intended, hand-delivered the pope an invitation to visit Tk’emlúps during his trip to Canada later this year.
The pope said he hopes to make the trip in the days around the Feast of St. Anne, which is July 26.
Upon meeting Pope Francis, Casimir said she explained to him she was passing along an invitation to visit Tk’emlúps, in the form of a handwritten missive.
She said he acknowledged receipt of the invitation and thanked her for it, but didn’t specifically commit to a Tk’emlúps visit at the meeting.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the background to be able to confirm the locations he’ll be attending,” Casimir said.
“I really hope he does. For me, it would just add to this historical moment.”
April 1 marked the official conclusion of the delegation’s trip to the Vatican, but Casimir spent a few more days in Rome before flying back to Canada on Tuesday.
Casimir said she is looking forward to coming home and sharing with her community, other chiefs and residential school survivors the messages she gave to the pope and the response she received.
“They want to work with us and they want to move forward in a good way,” Casimir said of the Catholic church.
There have been calls for the pope to apologize since May 2021, when the Tk’emlúps band announced it had found signs of 200 probable graves on the site of the former Kamloops Residential School.
A papal apology is also one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action.