By Zehra Nur Duz
ANKARA (AA) - The treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada was a "genocide," Pope Francis has said on his way back home after a six-day visit to Canada.
"I asked for forgiveness, forgiveness for this operation that is genocidal," Pope told reporters on the return flight from Canada, Vatican News reported on Saturday.
The pontiff condemned the acts of "taking away children, changing culture, changing mentalities, changing traditions, changing a race, let's say, a whole culture."
He firmly defended his remarks: "It is true, yes, yes, it was genocide. You can all be calm (about this). You can say that I said that it was genocide."
He also addressed the issue of resigning from the papacy, repeatedly prompted by the journalists' questions, saying that he does not intend to resign for now even though he considers it a possibility.
Pope Francis departed for home Friday after completing his goal of apologizing for the Catholic Church's role in the infamous Canadian residential schools.
He ended this six-day visit with a trip to Iqaluit, the capital of Canada's Nunavut territory. It is home to 28,000 Inuit Indigenous peoples, although the territory makes up about 21% of the world's second-largest country.
It is the first time a pope has visited Nunavut – a small, far-north Canadian city.
Francis talked with Inuit children, elders and residential school survivors.
Canada's three Indigenous peoples – Metis, First Nations and Inuit – had about 150,000 of their children taken away beginning in the 1820s and forced into notorious Indian residential schools.
About 60% of the schools were run by Catholic orders. The state-funded schools subjected children at times to sexual, physical and psychological abuse and together with a rampant disease an estimated 6,000 died.
After years of urging, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adding his voice to the calls, the pope apologized to Indigenous representatives when they arrived in Rome in March.
The cry went up for him to do so again on Canadian soil where the atrocities took place and Francis heeded the calls, arriving in Canada on July 24 for what he called his "penitential pilgrimage," and issuing apologies to all three Indigenous groups.
The bid was to reconcile Indigenous peoples with the Catholic Church.