Pope Francis on Monday made good on a promise to apologize to Canada's native people on their home land for the Church's role in schools where indigenous children were abused, branding forced cultural assimilation "evil" and a "disastrous error".
Speaking near the site of a former school, Francis apologised for Christian support of the "colonising mentality" of the times. He called for a "serious investigation" of the so-called residential schools and more assistance to help survivors and descendants heal.
"With shame and unambiguously, I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples," Francis told indigenous leaders from the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.
The 85-year-old pope is making the week-long apology tour of Canada to fulfill a promise he made to indigenous delegations that visited him this year at the Vatican, where he made the initial apology.
"I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools," he said.
Between 1881 and 1996 more than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools. Many children were starved, beaten and sexually abused in a system that Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission called "cultural genocide."