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Canadian prime minister Trudeau says he asked Pope to apologise for residential schools

Pope Francis poses for photographs along with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau (Getty images)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claims he asked Pope Francis to help Canadians “move forward on a real reconciliation” with the country’s indigenous people “by issuing an apology” on behalf of the Catholic Church for its role in harming their communities.

The prime minister spoke to a handful of reporters in Rome’s Villa Borghese Park May 29 after having had a 36-minute private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

“He reminded me that his entire life has been dedicated to supporting marginalised people in the world, fighting for them,” the prime minister said, adding the Pope said that “he looked forward to working with me and with the Canadian bishops to figure out a path forward together.”

The 2015 report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which focused on past treatment of the indigenous communities, included a recommendation that the Pope come to Canada to apologise on behalf of the Catholic Church for its participation in the residential schools for indigenous children.

While the idea behind the schools was to promote the greater integration of indigenous communities into modern Canadian life, the schools — many run by Catholic religious orders — led to a situation in which many children were separated from their families, lost their native language and cultures and occasionally suffered abuse.

Trudeau told reporters he invited the pope to go to Canada “in the coming years,” but added no further details about such a trip.

The Vatican meeting, Trudeau said, was an opportunity to have “a deeply personal and wide-ranging, thoughtful conversation with the leader of my own faith.”

For its part, the Vatican issued a statement saying that the prime minister’s meetings with the pope and with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, included “the themes of integration and reconciliation, as well as religious freedom and current ethical issues.”