Apologizing Along with Pope Francis


Pope Francis is preparing to come to this land to apologize to the Indigenous Peoples on our behalf.  Notice the emphasis, on our behalf.  How are you preparing for his visit?  When he comes will you be a mere observer watching for his every word and action, saying, “That was good, but I wish he would have said this, or spoken in that way, or done this other thing.”  Do you foresee yourself being an armchair quarterback?  If so, that is not nearly enough.  It will just be more words. And the words will be empty, unless we each apologize along with him.

“Why should I apologize?  I wasn’t even born in the time of colonization, and in school I was taught nothing about Indian Residential Schools.”  Or, “I had not yet come to Canada when all this was going on, why should I apologize?”

I should apologize, because you and I and everyone living in what we now call Canada have been benefitting off stolen goods, stolen property.  You and I and all of us are accomplices.  Our family ancestors were welcomed to this land as guests.  We then proceeded to take the land away from our hosts.  We also chose to take away their children, their language, their culture, and their spirituality.  We deliberately tried to erase their identity by trying to make them like us, because we felt we were superior and so much more civilized.  If each one of us does not apologize, we leave Pope Francis to hang out to dry all by himself.  The Indigenous People will say, “More words, but no action.  Just a lot of empty show.  The Church has disappointed us and hurt us once again.”

But how do I apologize?  I apologize by listening to the truth with open mind and heart. The Media often alerts us, “A warning!  What you are about to hear and see could be offensive and shocking to some.  If you feel you need it, phone this 24-hour crisis line for help and support.” I have to have enough courage to listen to the raw facts, to really listen, so as to allow myself to be touched, and to shout out in disbelief, “This is Canada!  How could we have done this? Why was I never taught this when I was in school or when I prepared to take my oath to become a Canadian citizen?” To apologize is to allow myself to be so shocked and scandalized, I am ready for change, even personal change.

I apologize by changing my attitudes.  Let’s be honest.  Have I ever used the word “drunken” in my thoughts? Have I ever thought or said, “He’s just another drunken Indian” or, “They are just money grabbers,” or, “They are a bunch of losers, opium over-dosers lying on our streets, or, “They are a bunch of angry protesters blocking our highways.”  “Why don’t they stop whining and get on with life?”  With thoughts and attitudes like this, can I really say that I have nothing to apologize for?  Now is the time for me to change my attitudes.

I need to apologize.  Yes, I need to apologize, because I have ignored the gift the Indigenous Peoples have been offering to me and the world.  They have been teaching me to respect creation, to give thanks to the Creator for everything, for every animal, bird, fish, plant and tree.  They have been teaching me to take these beings for my use only to the extent that I need of them.  They have been teaching me how to share, to treasure family bonds, to respect the dead, and to be resilient.  They have been showing me how to laugh, even in the midst of tragedy.  And I have not paid attention.  I have not received the gifts the Indigenous Peoples have been offering me.  Can I really say that I have nothing to apologize for?

I need to apologize because I have not cared about the fact that Indigenous Peoples have suffered so much inequality – the lack of educational opportunities, the lack of adequate housing and even the lack of clean drinking water.  And they have experienced many outlandish instances of systemic racism and discrimination.  I hear about it but throw up my hands saying, “But what can I do?”  I need to apologize for giving up.

I need to apologize because I sometimes lose patience hearing about the Indian Residential School System.  I say, “But it was so long ago.  I don’t really care about their loss of language, traditions and spirituality.  Why don’t they just become like us and get on with it.”

Yes, I really need to apologize for my negative attitudes and my apathy.  I don’t want to let the Pope apologize all on his own.  Even though don’t have a megaphone, and am not on stage, I need and want to apologize along with him and follow through with it after he has returned to Rome.  If all of us do this, the Pope will have helped us and the world to take a giant step toward Reconciliation.

Robert Foliot, SJ is working in pastoral ministry at Martyr's Shrine, Midland and at St. Francis Xavier Mission on Christian Island.

  • Lois Greene
    Posted at 03:03h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you for this letter – very well said. I shall take it to heart.
    Lois Greene

  • Dodzi Amemado
    Posted at 06:56h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you very much, Fr. Foliot!

  • Dee Sproule
    Posted at 07:54h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you for the reminder of all we could be learning from our first nations!
    You are so right.
    We all do need to apologize with the Holy Father; it’s the only way true reconciliation can occur.

  • Wendy McCreath
    Posted at 08:19h, 12 July Reply

    So well said! Thank you for your honesty, Father Bert. We all need to be honest too.

  • Ronald Perron
    Posted at 08:50h, 12 July Reply

    Robert Folio, s.j. Thank you for your very inclusive and enlighten invitation to take ownership of the apology with Pope Francis.

  • Norbert Piché
    Posted at 08:53h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you Fr. Bert for asking us to look at ourselves and see the responsibility we each have towards Indigenous peoples.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 09:29h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you very, very much Bert!

  • Eric Jensen
    Posted at 10:59h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you, Bert. Very well put! I especially like the line, “To apologize is to allow myself to be so shocked and scandalized, I am ready for change, even personal change.”

  • Friederika Priemer
    Posted at 11:04h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you very much Fr. Foliot for this great reminder. Please send a copy to Pope Francis so that he can see that he is not alone. Your letter will encourage him for sure!

  • Elizabeth Bryant
    Posted at 11:25h, 12 July Reply

    It is very sad what has happened. To have so many Canadians so unaware of the violent history of this land and the fact that we have been robbed of our mutual heritage by government policy and our inability to discern truth. I say our mutual heritage and I mean that this heritage belongs to every Canadian. For shame. The blood of Able cries out from the grave. Dearest Father in heaven, I am sorry. Forgive me for not loving my neighbour as myself. I have sinned greatly. Amen.

  • Robert Czerny
    Posted at 13:55h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you for your broad and timely guidance, valid for all citizens and not just for Catholics.

  • Margaret Powell
    Posted at 14:01h, 12 July Reply

    My husband and I had the blessing of meeting and visiting with the indigenous people Fr Max Olivia was serving during his time in Canada. My prayers are with all of them as they are healing from the years of injustices.

  • Catherine von Zuben
    Posted at 14:23h, 12 July Reply

    You’re perfectly correct. We must not leave Pope Francis ‘to hang out to dry all by himself.’ Thank you Fr. Bert for your care and compassion towards our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Having had the privilege to listen, learn, share and pray with the participants in the “Listening to Indigenous Voices” Jesuit forum, I am truly grateful for people like you who remind us that we are Church and need to participate in this Reconciliation process. We must join in prayer for Pope Francis’ health and safety.

  • John Feruglio
    Posted at 18:34h, 12 July Reply

    Every civilization has been taken over in history. The Europeans took control of open land with no borders or a parliamentary system with is what you need to form a country. The Indians themselves came over from Asia 10000 yrs before. They would still be on stick and stones if it wasn’t for Europeans. They didn’t even have the horse if it wasn’t for the Spaniards. There is no need for apology anymore, besides all they want is money anyhow. Read history books.

    • Gord Richardson
      Posted at 18:17h, 24 July Reply

      It is you sir who needs to read history books, and not the sanitized ones that were used in schools for decades. Are you not aware that Indigenous children were snatched from their homes and families and stuck in residential schools where virtually all suffered unspeakable physical, sexual and emotional abuse? Where they were punished if they were caught speaking their own language? The schools’ objectives were cultural genocide, ‘taking the Indian out of the Indian’ as has been often quoted. I’m both surprised and appalled that your comment wasn’t removed by moderators as its ignorance of reality is disturbing.

  • Bernie Carroll
    Posted at 21:20h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you Bert. You have said what so many of us need to hear, to ponder, to admit — in order to apologize, not only with words but with a change of mind and heart.
    Systemic racism / discrimination is so deeply imbedded in many of us that we don’t even realize how and when it triggers our lethargy or indifference.
    But with the grace of God + learning the real facts of our colonizing history, there is every possibility of finding and walking the painful path to reconciliation.

  • Suzanne renaud
    Posted at 10:30h, 13 July Reply

    Thank you for your instructional words! I will support Pope Francis in this apology by praying with him; and learning more about our indigenous people. Thank you for guiding us in finding ways to work towards reconciliation.

  • Chantal Balthazar
    Posted at 13:47h, 14 July Reply

    Thank you Fr. Foliot! Your words truly touch my heart and offer us much reflection. Listening to the truth of our past can be very painful, but necessary. Thank you for putting into words what needs to happen if we are to follow a path of truth and reconciliation along side and with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. There is much to reflect upon here, and I myself will ponder much on what you have shared.

  • Luz S.
    Posted at 10:43h, 16 July Reply

    Thank you Father Foliot for raising awareness about our role in sustaining authentic reconciliation efforts with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Pope Francis’ visit to apologize in person means a lot to me because he listens and responds to share Jesus’ message of peace and goodwill to all men!

  • Margaret+Manitowabi
    Posted at 13:19h, 16 July Reply

    Aanii Fr Bert Foliot sj, I read your prayer reflection on the Apology which Pope Francis will be delivering in another week. I read the comments all but one understood about Indigenous People and what they have gone through we were welcoming only to be taken advantage off. Kanadaa means you will live here. It is basically what I am doing here on earth. Just living in God’s Creation and all the blessings around us. At the present time I am at my humble camp off the grid and I decided not to bring the noisy generator but battery packs for this phone and 10 volt battery for the lantern. My thoughts on the apology on what happened to indigenous peoples around the world is not God’s doing and not his will. I admire non indigenous peoples up to a point but they are getting wealth although short lived as you can’t take it with you. I came from dust and dust I shall return. My wealth comes from breathing in clean air, sitting by the water, visits from family during my Covid quarantine, watching families of geese gathering as a family. We are all people I need to forgive that Pope Nicholas lV gave a decree his papal bull and said we indigenous peoples are pagans and have no right to land as we are not people. And this is out there still as he put it out there 500 years ago . That’s okay God knows me he calls me by name and he loves me. I forgive us as I walk with God and Mother Mary and try to practice unconditional love. I am thankful for support I received through my high school years and post secondary years there are good people out there, in God’s Creation. People like you Fr. Bert

  • Élisabeth Villemure
    Posted at 08:42h, 20 July Reply

    Thank you Father, your réflexion is so enlightening, so inspiring and so challenging.
    I am deeply touched and challenged.

    I agree fully with you, all of us have to join Pope Francis in asking pardon for this sad and very sad part of our history.
    Thank you Father for your honesty and courage.
    May you be blessed abundantly in the mission that is yours

  • Gord Richardson
    Posted at 18:26h, 24 July Reply

    Thank you Bert. I was directed here by our mutual friend Dawn S. Even as a non-Catholic, I know our nation has committed atrocities against its Indigenous Peoples and we must all, though we may not have had an actual hand in them, resolve to reconcile with Indigenous Peoples by, inter alia, reconditioning our thought processes that may have thought the negative thoughts you quote. I share Dawn’s admiration and respect for you sir.

  • Mike Parent
    Posted at 03:22h, 27 July Reply

    Thank you Bert. I wish also to thank the, arguably, ancestral brothers and sisters of our ‘indigenous peoples’ living in the Himalayas. They have given me a home for 60 years now. Their daily concerns I see are the same as anyone else’s on the planet. Their daily hopes, fears,worries,joys, the same. . family, food,shelter, birth,life,death. They have flourished, adapting to climate and topography, on their own and using their own devices. The threat to their human flourishing these days comes from a distant ‘gummint’ and its programs,mandates and restrictions, all ‘for their own good’.

    I’m looking forward to a visit home to Canada. Oh, right! As an unjabbed Canadian I may have to out-wait the apps,vaxports, travel restrictions etc that the ‘gummint’ has in place, ‘for my own good and the good of others.’
    (Note to self: what goes around, comes around. What we have done to others we seem to be doing to ourselves.)

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