As Canada reels from the discovery of a mass grave of children at a school formerly run by the Catholic Church, Pope Francis expressed his shock in comments after his traditional Angelus prayer in St Peter’s square in Rome on Sunday.
“I received the news from Canada with horror,” the pope said, a week after news of the discovery emerged.
A mass grave of 215 Indigenous children was discovered last month at Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia, which operated between 1890 and 1978 under the auspices of the Catholic Church and later the government.
The remarks come after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “deeply disappointed” by the position of the Catholic Church both now and in past years and that the government was “still seeing resistance” from the church.
The pope said he joined with bishops to express his closeness to the Canadian people and that the discovery had increased certainty about the pain of the past.
Pope Francis said work continued to shed light on the matter. He called for a shift away from the ideology of colonization and for recognition of the rights of all sons and daughters of Canada.
The discovery at the Kamloops school was first confirmed by Rosanne Casimir, the chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, formerly known as the Kamloops Indian Band.
Some of the children were as young as 3 years old and the cause of their deaths is still unknown.
The case has prompted calls from Canadian Indigenous groups to probe all former residential schools.
For decades, thousands of children were taken from their families and placed in residential schools, where they had to learn the traditions of European colonialists to forget their own culture. Violence and sexual abuse were common in the schools.