Pope Francis has apologised and begged for forgiveness for the abuse suffered by Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s church-run residential schools.
Francis has described the historical abuse as “deplorable” during a meeting with community leaders in Rome on Friday.
Dozens of members of the Metis, Inuit and First Nations communities came to Italy seeking a papal apology and a commitment for the Catholic Church to repair the damage.
The Pope said he hoped to visit Canada in late July to deliver an apology in person to all those who suffered from the Catholic Church.
More than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes and culture.
The aim was to assimilate the indigenous children into mainstream society, which previous Canadian governments considered superior.
“For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask forgiveness of the Lord,” Francis said on Friday.
“I want to tell you from my heart, that I am greatly pained. And I unite myself with the Canadian bishops in apologising.”
The meeting in Rome came after hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered outside some of the residential schools in Canada last year.
On Friday, the Pope was presented with gifts, after performances of Indigenous prayers, drums, and dances.
The head of the Metis, Cassidy Caron, presented Francis with a bound book of their people’s stories of loss and abuse that they had suffered.
The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant at the Catholic Church schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages. Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations.
Indigenous leaders say their treatment and isolation has led to epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction on Canadian reservations.
The Catholic Church of Canada had issued a formal apology to native communities in September.