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A group holds a banner with names of residential children after Pope Francis apologizes for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system, in Maskwacis, Alta., on July 25.Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

In 1954, sisters Noella Robinson and Joan St. Denis arrived at St. Mary’s Residential School near Kenora, Ont. They had travelled more than 1,700 kilometres from their home in Hunter’s Point, a First Nations territory in Quebec. Ms. Robinson was nine years old, and Ms. St. Denis was only five.

Four years later in 1958, when they took a train to North Bay to be reunited with their parents, the two girls didn’t recognize them at the station.

Last week, their story of mistaking a white woman for their mother decades ago was told with laughter by the sisters in a conversation at a hotel in Quebec City, where they had made their way to meet with the Pope. They recall only discovering who their parents were when there were just two other people left standing on the platform.

“We kind of drifted together and then they started talking, we started talking and that was our introduction to home. We got in the car and went home,” Ms. St. Denis said.

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The sisters’ experiences at St. Mary’s were on their minds when they took part in a private meeting with Pope Francis on Friday at the Archbishop’s Residence in Quebec City, along with other residential-school survivors and Indigenous delegates from Eastern Canada.

Ms. Robinson presented the Pope with a gift: a bottle of maple syrup to honour a block of maple syrup the sisters received from their grandfather while they were away at residential school. “We knew we still had touch with our people because of that maple syrup, and we had a part of them while we were there,” Ms. Robinson said. “It kept it in our memory that they were thinking of us.”

The meeting was part of the Pope’s six-day historic visit to Canada that concluded on Friday. After previously meeting with residential-school survivors in March at the Vatican, the Pope’s “pilgrimage of penance” in Canada came after calls for an apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the Indian Residential School system, which operated in Canada for more than 100 years.

About 150,000 Indigenous children attended the church-run schools, which had an active policy of cultural assimilation to destroy Indigenous cultures, languages and families. The Catholic Church ran the majority of schools into the 1960s, when the federal government took over management.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) maintains a registry that includes the names of more than 4,000 children who died at or after attending the schools.

For some survivors, the meeting with the Pope was an opportunity to voice demands for further justice. For others, like Ms. Robinson and Ms. St. Denis, the meeting was a chance to put aside anger and move forward with healing.

The visit with survivors was the final event in Quebec City before the Pope went on to his last stop, in Iqaluit. The Pope spoke of how he had been “deeply touched” by meeting survivors and about his hope to move forward together on a journey to healing and reconciliation.

In Iqaluit, the Pope said he was sorry and asked forgiveness “for the evil perpetrated by not a few Catholics,” at residential schools. On Saturday, on the flight back to Rome, the Pope told reporters on board that residential schools in Canada were “clearly” a genocide.

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Before arriving in Quebec City, Ms. Robinson and Ms. St. Denis watched the papal apology Monday in Maskwacis, Alta., on television from their homes in Kipawa and Kebaowek First Nation in Quebec. Ms. Robinson said it was very emotional, because “it was his first visit to our people.”

On Wednesday, at the Citadelle de Québec, he asked forgiveness for the “wrongs done by so many Christians to Indigenous people” at residential schools.

The sisters arrived in Quebec City the day before attending the Pope’s mass at the National Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupré on Thursday. They thought the Pope’s apologies were sincere. Ms. Robinson said that “it’s a beginning for our people.”

“When we were children, we never had a voice,” Ms. Robinson said. “For the youth of today, the healing has begun. For my forgiveness, I pass that on to them and things will get better for our people.”

“The youth are going to continue the healing for our people, our Anishinaabe people.”

For some survivors, the meeting with the Pope was a chance to demand further justice from the Catholic Church. Evelyn Korkmaz is a survivor of the Catholic-run St. Anne Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont. According to the NCTR, four former staff members were convicted of assault charges and some students testified that they were forced to sit in an electric chair as punishment.

Ms. Korkmaz presented Pope Francis with a letter stating that an apology on behalf of the Christian faith is not enough and could not “undo the pain and suffering a survivor has endured under clergy care.”

“We want justice for our people who were harmed by religious institutions,” Ms. Korkmaz wrote.

In her letter, she asked that the Vatican release all residential-school records, which she said could help locate and identify the children buried in unmarked graves and provide closure for families. She also asked that the Catholic Church release the whereabouts of clergy accused of sexual abuse and that the Pope rescind the Doctrine of Discovery “for those countries affected by this racist document.”

Many Indigenous leaders, including the Assembly of First Nations, have called on the Pope to revoke the doctrine. Pope Francis did not mention it specifically in any of his addresses on his visit.

Ms. St. Denis said she understands those who are asking for further actions from the church but she did not feel that was the purpose of his visit, or that it would become so “political.”

Ms. Robinson said Pope Francis appears to be open to listening to survivors.

“We have somebody that’s listening to our voice. Maybe people’s expectations are different, but for us, this is how we feel,” Ms. Robinson said.

“We’re each on our own path. We have a path in life and trauma happens to many of us and we work at it at our own pace.”

Ms. St. Denis said it still hurts to look back on her time away from home, or think of her mother not seeing her children for four years. But now on her healing path, she said did not want her meeting with the Pope to be focused on anger.

“I wasn’t always in this place that I am now, because I went through anger when I was younger, but now that I have children and grandchildren, I just want to let it go.”

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