Pope Francis flew to the Canadian Arctic Friday to meet Inuit survivors of Catholic-run schools where Indigenous children were abused over a span of decades, in the final stop of a landmark tour apologizing for the Church's role.
The 85-year-old pontiff travelled to the vast northern territory of Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit, which means "the place of many fish." Residents greeted him with traditional music including throat singing on a stage set up beneath an overcast sky.
He was meeting first with survivors of the residential school system -- which saw Indigenous children separated from their families, language and culture in a bid to stamp out their identity -- before appearing at a public event hosted by the Inuit.
Residents in Iqaluit, where small houses line the rocky ocean shore, have listened closely to the pope's words so far on his trip.
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"He did apologize, and a lot of people don't seem to be happy with it but he took that step to come to Nunavut and to apologize, and I think that's big," lifelong Iqaluit resident Evie Kunuk, 47, told AFP in the community of just over 7,000 people on Friday.
"This visit is important for Iqaluit, because a lot of people here went to residential schools ... It's going to open doors for some people."
"This visit is creating a buzz," said Quebec resident Steve Philippe, 52, who traveled to Iqaluit to see the pope and was in the crowd of hundreds waiting for him to appear.
The pope's reception has been "a little bit lukewarm," he admitted.
"Maybe expectations were too high... but I think it's a step in the right direction."
'Part of your family'
From the late 1800s to the 1990s, Canada's government sent about 150,000 children into 139 residential schools run by the Catholic Church. Many were physically and sexually abused, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.
The pope kicked off his trip to Canada on Monday with an apology for the abuse.
While survivors have said his words were overwhelming, many have made clear they see the apology as only the beginning of a process of healing and reconciliation.
Others have pointed out that the pope has not yet specifically mentioned the sexual abuse of First Nations, Metis and Inuit children in his comments -- a criticism that was echoed by Iqualuit residents.
Kilikvak Kabloona, the chief executive of an organization representing the Inuit in Nunavut, said Francis had not "recognized the Roman Catholic institutional role in protecting abusers."
The pope is also expected to be asked once more to intervene in the case of a fugitive French priest, Johannes Rivoire, 93, who was accused of sexually abusing Inuit children in Nunavut decades ago before fleeing to France.
Earlier this year, Canadian police issued a new arrest warrant for him, and an Inuit delegation asked Francis at the Vatican to personally intervene.
"The pope is the leader of the Catholic church and... he must be able to require Rivoire to face his charges," Kabloona said.
"We would like Rivoire to be extradited to Canada to face his charges in court."
The spiritual leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics began his six-day trip in western Canada before traveling to Quebec.
Earlier Friday, Francis made a speech to a delegation of Indigenous peoples in Quebec City, where he told them he was "returning home greatly enriched... I also feel a part of your family."
He also alluded to his own health, stating: "I have come as a pilgrim, despite my physical limitations, to take further steps forward with you and for you."
The pope has spent much of the Canada trip in a wheelchair because of pain in his right knee.