Winnipeg good place for Pope’s apology: Fontaine Former Assembly of First Nations chief among Indigenous delegates meeting with Catholic Church leader Friday

ROME — Phil Fontaine believes Pope Francis intends to issue an apology to Indigenous people on Canadian soil.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/03/2022 (187 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ROME — Phil Fontaine believes Pope Francis intends to issue an apology to Indigenous people on Canadian soil.

And if the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations gets a chance when he meets the Pope Friday at the Vatican, he intends to invite the head of the Roman Catholic Church to do it in Winnipeg.

“St. Boniface played a historic role in the spread of Christianity westward across Canada,” said Fontaine, the Manitoba representative on the 32-member Indigenous delegation.

Phil Fontaine
Fontaine said Manitoba is a good place to start a papal visit, because the church had such a significant presence in the province, adding St. Boniface was the site of an industrial school for Indigenous children.

“The church has a long history in our community and in the province,” he said.

Fontaine, who is Catholic, said having a chance to meet the Pope is “a special moment.”

”It’s a privilege to be invited to be here as a representative from Manitoba,” he said.

Fontaine, who served three terms as national chief of the AFN — from 1997 to 2000 and from 2003 to 2009, met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2009. Although the Pope expressed sorrow over the church’s role in Canada’s residential schools, he did not apologize.

The circumstances have changed significantly since that “more discreet, behind closed doors” visit, Fontaine said.

“This visit is open, a public process,” he said.

And there had been no Truth and Reconciliation Commission, no United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and no discoveries of unmarked graves of Indigenous children on or near the grounds of residential schools across the country.

Those things have “put a lot of pressure on the church to act,” he said.

“It’s quite clear to us the Holy Father will follow through on his commitment to come and apologize on Canadian soil.”– Phil Fontaine

Fontaine said he sees his visit with Pope Benedict 13 years ago as “part of a process, a journey, moving step-by-step” towards getting an apology.

“It’s quite clear to us the Holy Father will follow through on his commitment to come and apologize on Canadian soil,” he said, adding an apology will not be the end of “the journey.”

“There are still many steps to take to fix the relationship with the church,” he said.

There has been progress in that direction already, including how the church is accepting of traditional Indigenous spirituality and practices, he said.

“I take it as a good sign,” he said, noting he utilizes Indigenous spiritual practices in his own life. “I don’t see them in conflict.”

He said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was instrumental in arranging the delegation’s invitation, a product of a good working relationship with the Indigenous community.

Fontaine said the attention the visit has drawn from Canadian and international media has made him optimistic.

“It’s not just Canadian Catholics watching this process, but all of Canada and the whole world,” he said.

John Longhurst is in Rome this week to cover the visit to the Pope by Indigenous people for the Free Press. See coverage of the visit at

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Pope Francis delivers a blessing from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square during the Angelus noon prayer at the Vatican, Sunday, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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