Participants at Pope Francis’s Mass in Canada have unfurled a banner asking him to formally rescind edicts from the 15th century in which the papacy justified taking indigenous land.
The large banner protesting the doctrine of discovery was unfurled near the front row facing the congregation as the Pope was starting Mass in a cathedral outside Quebec City.
Most of the people in the church were indigenous.
Two women held up the banner, written on a white sheet with red and black letters, and later took it down themselves.
It was not clear if the Pope, who was behind the banner, was able to see what it said.
The doctrine of discovery was enshrined in 15th-century papal bulls, or edicts.
Indigenous people in Canada have been calling for its rescinding for years.
In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which spent six years investigating residential schools, listed its repudiation as one of 94 calls to action that it laid out.
Francis is on a week-long tour of Canada to apologise for the church’s role in the abusive residential schools system, which removed indigenous children from their homes in a forced cultural assimilation program.
A spokesperson for papal visit organisers said Canadian bishops are asking the Pope to address the doctrine of discovery.
“Galvanised by the calls of our Indigenous Partners, and by the Holy Father’s remarks, we are working with the Vatican and those who have studied this issue, with the goal of issuing a new statement from the Church,” Laryssa Waler wrote in an email on Thursday.
“Canada’s Bishops continue to reject and resist the ideas associated with the Doctrine of Discovery in the strongest possible way.”
Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, said the Pope was unlikely to formally rescind the doctrine but he should address it.
“The church doesn’t operate like that – it doesn’t issue a document saying, ‘Now we have decided that this old doctrine is no longer true,'” he said.
“How the church does that is to produce new documents with new doctrines that replace old doctrines… I believe (the Pope) should address that issue, and I think he will. But not with a formal document.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also “discussed the need to… address the Doctrine of Discovery” in a meeting with the pontiff on Wednesday, according to a readout from his office on Thursday.