AFN National Chief Says Private Audience with Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican City "Closes the Circle" and Enables Work Towards Reconciliation for Residential School Survivors



    VATICAN CITY, April 29 /CNW Telbec/ - Assembly of First Nations National
Chief Phil Fontaine and a delegation of First Nations Elders, residential
school survivors and Aboriginal leaders met with Pope Benedict XVI at the
Vatican today, followed by the first ever Private Audience between a Pope and
a delegation of First Nations from Canada. The purpose of the audience was to
discuss the legacy of the Indian residential schools era and the need for
reconciliation.
    "As we approach the one year anniversary of the Government of Canada's
apology on June 11, this visit with the Holy Father closes the circle of
reconciliation. In the past, we received apologies from the Anglican, United
and Presbyterian churches and the Government of Canada for the residential
schools. Today's expression of understanding, acknowledgement and emotion by
His Holiness on behalf of the Catholic Church closes the circle," stated the
National Chief.
    Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine and the delegation
of First Nations Elders, survivors, Chiefs, women and youth attended an
outdoor general audience in St. Peter's Square. Included in the delegation, at
the invitation of the National Chief, were Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President
Mary Simon and Métis National Council Vice-President David Chartrand.
    Following the General Audience, the National Chief Fontaine and four AFN
delegates, as well as five representatives of the Catholic Church, met the
Most Holy Father in a private meeting that lasted approximately 20 minutes.
    In this historic meeting, the National Chief stated, "Our struggle has
reached a decisive moment. While the past must never be forgotten, our destiny
lies in building a future with enduring foundations, the cornerstone of which
must be forgiveness."
    The delegates presented His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI with a number of
gifts that symbolized the diverse culture and spirituality of First Nations
peoples: an eagle feather, traditional beaded moccasins and gloves, a
porcupine quill box designed with the AFN insignia, a bible translated into
the Dene language and a silver crucifix specially designed and commissioned
for the occasion that symbolizes reconciliation between First Nations and the
Catholic Church.
    In his statement, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish
caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church and he offered
his sympathy and prayerful solidarity. His Holiness emphasized that acts of
abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would
experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations peoples to continue to
move forward with renewed hope.
    The National Chief stated in reply: "Most Holy Father, we offer our hand
in friendship, reconciliation and yes, hope; hope that we can work together to
shape a new Canada for our people."
    The National Chief stated that the meeting was a moving and extraordinary
moment for all involved, and is a highpoint of his own lifelong work to bring
resolution to the legacy of the Indian residential schools.
    The Catholic Church operated approximately 75% of the Indian residential
schools in Canada. The National Chief worked with the Canadian Conference of
Catholic Bishops to make today's meeting a reality, and he thanked the
organization and particularly its President, Archbishop James Weisgerber, and
legal counsel to the Catholic Church Entities Pierre Baribeau for their
support.
    The text of the National Chief's statement and a picture and description
of the silver crucifix presented to Pope Benedict XVI by National Chief
Fontaine is available upon request.

    The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing
First Nations citizens in Canada.




For further information:

For further information: Don Kelly, A/Communications Director, Assembly
of First Nations, (613) 241-6789 ext. 334, cell: (613) 292-2787,
dkelly@afn.ca; Gina Cosentino, Government Relations and International Affairs,
National Chief's Office, (613) 314-2661, gcosentino@afn.ca


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