Two protestors held up a banner calling for the Catholic Church to reverse a 15th century policy known as the “Doctrine of Discovery” that backed seizing land from non-Christians at the start of a Mass led by Pope Francis near Quebec on Thursday.
After the procession into Sainte Anne de Beaupré near the city, they held up the banner with the words: “Rescind the doctrine.”
The Mass, which was attended by around 2,000 congregants, went ahead. Pope Francis looked in the direction of the protestors who were then led from the church, as shown in a television broadcast by Vatican News.
Pope Francis is in Canada to meet Indigenous people and to ask forgiveness for the abuse and violence perpetrated by clerics on children educated in boarding schools that were once run by the church.
Many Indigenous people were present, as was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had called on the pope to apologize on behalf of the church.
During his sermon, Francis called for the faithful to face up to the scandals. Members of the church need to confront the feeling of failure and query what had happened, he said.
“In confronting the scandal of evil and the Body of Christ wounded in the flesh of our indigenous brothers and sisters, we too have experienced deep dismay; we too feel the burden of failure,” he said.
The pope did not refer to the protest. He was to meet church representatives later in the day.
Earlier in his visit, the pope asked Canada's First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people for forgiveness for the crimes committed against their children over decades in the network of schools.
Created by the state and run by the church, the institutions aimed to adapt and convert the children to Christian society. The reality the children faced was one of violence, sexual abuse, hunger, and disease. Hundreds of children died in the institutions.
Starting in the 1880s, an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in the boarding schools, with the last ones closing only in 1996.
The discovery of hundreds of unmarked children's graves on boarding school grounds in May last year caused a scandal around the world — although the disappearances of Indigenous children had been discussed in Canada for years.
In 2015, a government-appointed commission described the crimes of the boarding school staff as “cultural genocide.”