Pope Francis said he is "deeply sorry" to Indigenous communities for the actions of many within the Catholic Church and for its participation in the forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples and Canada's residential schools.
The 85-year-old was speaking at the site of Ermineskin Residential School in Maskwacis, Alberta, where he met with Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors on Monday.
Addressing the crowds, Pope Francis said, "I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples."
During his apology, the pope said it is "necessary" to remember how assimilation policies such as the residential school system ended up "systematically marginalizing" Indigenous peoples.
He acknowledged that Indigenous languages and cultures were "denigrated and suppressed" and that children "suffered physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse," at the hands of the Catholic Church.
"I am deeply sorry. Sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples," he continued.
"I ask forgiveness in particular for the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities cooperated — not least through their indifference — in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in a system of residential schools."
The pope also promised there would be a "serious investigation" into what happened to help survivors heal from their trauma.
Angie Crerar, a Métis elder and residential school survivor from Grande Prairie, Alberta, told reporters her heart was "full" after hearing the Pope's apology. Crerar — who was part of the party that met the pope in Rome this year — said, "We have to rebuild. Start all over again with kindness and understanding."
Pope Francis arrived in Edmonton on Sunday for his six-day papal visit to Canada as part of efforts to "learn how colonization and residential schools operated by the Catholic Church impacted Indigenous peoples," according to the Alberta Government.
While he is in Alberta, Pope Francis will also be conducting an open-air mass at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton and participating in the annual pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne on Tuesday before heading to Quebec City on Wednesday and finally to Iqaluit on Friday.
Over 120,000 people are expected to be attending events in Alberta throughout the Pope's visit.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society Emergency Crisis Line is available across Canada 24/7. Those who may need support can call 1-866-925-4419.