No repeat of indigenous harm: Pope

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Pope Francis says the Roman Catholic Church must accept institutional blame for the harm done to indigenous Canadians in residential schools that tried to wipe out native cultures.

Francis made his comment during a visit to Lac Ste. Anne, a lakeside pilgrimage site about 70km west of Edmonton, adding that such violence and marginalisation must never be repeated.

After arriving to the sounds of drumbeats and chanting, the Pope, seated in a wheelchair, blessed the lake then spoke of "the wound of the violence suffered by our indigenous brothers and sisters" and "the terrible effects of colonisation".

Francis is on a week-long tour of Canada to apologise for the Roman Catholic Church's role in running residential schools that tore indigenous children away from their families and became places where abuse was rampant.

"All of us, as Church, now need healing; healing from the temptation of closing in on ourselves, of defending the institution rather than seeking the truth, of preferring worldly power to serving the gospel," he said in a covered outdoor space after greeting the crowd in three indigenous languages.

Cindy Bearhead, 58, a school survivor from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, was among a crowd of several hundred people.

"For him to come here and bless the lake and bless the people, that's really historic, and for the Vatican to actually acknowledge indigenous people and our spiritual place in Canada," she said.

More than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools over more than a century.

Many were starved, beaten for speaking their native languages and sexually abused in a system Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission called "cultural genocide".

The Pope spoke a day after visiting the town of Maskwacis in Alberta, site of two former schools.

He issued a historic apology that called the church's role in schools and their forced cultural assimilation a "deplorable evil" and "disastrous error".

On Tuesday morning, at a Mass for about 50,000 people at a stadium in Edmonton, Francis praised the indigenous tradition of showing great respect to elders and learning from them, saying their legacy must not be lost in modern society's "fog of forgetfulness".

His words were particularly poignant for indigenous communities because the residential schools, which ran from 1870 to 1996, destroyed links between generations so precious to indigenous cultures.

In his homily, he hoped for "a future in which the history of violence and marginalisation suffered by our indigenous brothers and sisters is never repeated".

Before the Pope arrived, Phil Fontaine, a former Assembly of First Nations national chief and a residential school survivor, reflected on Francis' visit.

"I want to say to you, my friends, that what we really are talking about is forgiveness. We will never reach reconciliation without forgiveness," Fontaine said.

"We will never forget but we must forgive."

Indigenous leaders, as well as survivors of the schools, said while the Pope's apology on Monday evoked strong emotions and was a highly significant step towards reconciliation, the church and the government needed to take more action.

"You can't just say, 'I am sorry' and walk away. There has to be effort, and there has to be work in more meaningful actions behind words," said Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis.

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