Catholic leader also specifically called on native people to ‘teach mankind how to maintain a harmonious relationship with nature’

byLauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams

Speaking to tens of thousands of people in an open-air mass in the southern Mexico city of San Cristóbal on Monday, Pope Francis denounced the greed that has driven the exploitation of the country’s Indigenous population and the land that they inhabit.

“On many occasions, in a systematic and organized way, your people have been misunderstood and excluded from society,” the pontiff said in Chiapas state, where 75 percent of the population is Indigenous.

“Some have considered your values, cultures, and traditions inferior. Others, dizzy with power, money, and the laws of the market, have stripped you of your lands and then contaminated them. How sad this is,” he continued. “How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, ‘Forgive me!'”

After pausing, the Pope then said, “Sorry brothers.”

The apology came during Pope Francis’ five-day tour of the country, during which he discussed such issues as the environment and commented on the “evils” of “forced emigration and drugs,” BBC reports. Monday’s mass was delivered in three native languages, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, and Chol, after a new Vatican decree approved their use.

Pope Francis also specifically called on the Indigenous population of Chiapas to “teach mankind…how to maintain a harmonious relationship with nature,” as they have done for generations, with the planet facing “one of the greatest environmental crises in history”—reiterating one of his favored themes.

“The environmental challenge that we are experiencing and its human causes affects us all and demands our response,” he said. “We can no longer pretend to be deaf in the face of one of the greatest environmental crises in history.”

“In this you have much to teach, to teach mankind,” he told the predominantly indigenous crowd, many of whom wore traditional dress. “You know how to maintain a harmonious relationship with nature, and respect it as a source of food, a common home, and an altar for how to share resources among people.”

Last year, Pope Francis issued a similar apology to the native peoples of the Americas, “not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.” He added, “There was sin and an abundant amount of it.”