Pope, Canadian prime minister discuss residential schools, Ukraine

Vatican City — Religious freedom, the conflict in Ukraine and the environment were on the table as Pope Francis met briefly Thursday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Vatican said.

The prime minister's office said their discussions also included reference to the findings, released June 2, of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which detailed the treatment of aboriginal children in residential schools supported by the Canadian government but administered by religious organizations, including the Catholic church.

The commission described what happened to the children and their communities as "cultural genocide."

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations had asked Harper to raise the issue with Francis and ask the pope to publicly apologize for the Catholic church's role in the schools, in the treatment of the children there and in its impact on the aboriginal cultures.

The Vatican's statement about the meeting did not mention the schools, which operated over a period of 130 years and separated some 150,000 native children from their families.

On other topics, "Prime Minister Harper was pleased to invite Francis to Canada to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation" in 2017, his office said.

The prime minister was on a trip that included visits to Ukraine, Poland and Germany for the summit of the leaders of the world's most industrialized countries.

Harper spent only about 10 minutes speaking privately with Francis in the presence of interpreters, but after the prime minister introduced members of his entourage and posed for photographs with the pope, the two continued talking.

The prime minister also met with Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican equivalent of a foreign minister.

"During the course of the cordial discussions, the good relations existing between the Holy See and Canada were noted, as was the positive spirit of cooperation and dialogue between the Canadian federal government and the church," said a Vatican statement.

The defense and promotion of religious freedom, tensions in Europe and the Middle East, the fight against terrorism and environmental issues were also discussed, the Vatican said.

According to the prime minister's office, the reference to Europe was specifically about Ukraine and the ongoing fighting along its eastern border with Russia.

"Prime Minister Harper addressed the situation in Ukraine and his deep concern with Vladimir Putin's aggression, occupation and violence in Ukraine," his office said.

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