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By Rod Nickel
IQALUIT, Nunavut (Reuters) - Pope Francis, in his last speech on a six-day trip to Canada, delivered a message on Friday meant to inspire northern Inuit youth, including a reference to one of the country's most popular sports, hockey.
Francis has directed his message of apology this week at older indigenous generations who suffered abuse in government residential schools mostly run by Catholic orders. On his last Canadian stop, in the northern city of Iqaluit, Nunavut, he turned to the youth.
"How does Canada manage to win all those Olympic medals? How
did Sarah Nurse or Marie-Philip Poulin get to score all those goals?" the pope said outside an Iqaluit elementary school, referring to two of Canada's best female hockey players. "Hockey combines discipline and creativity, tactics and physical strength; but team spirit always makes the difference."
The pontiff is more a fan of the beautiful game, particularly the Buenos Aires San Lorenzo soccer team.
Francis' reference to hockey comes amid police investigations into alleged group sexual assaults https://www.reuters.com/article/us-icehockey-canada-idCAKBN2P01IN by two of the country’s national junior teams. The investigations are prominent news within Canada.
The Canadian government separated more than 150,000 indigenous children from their families and brought them to residential schools between 1870 and 1996.
Under successive governments' policies of assimilation, many children were beaten for speaking their native languages and some also sexually abused.
Francis apologized in Iqaluit for the role of "not a few Catholics" in the residential school system's abuses, and has done so multiple times this week to indigenous groups.
In Nunavut, Francis was speaking to a territory with a suicide rate 10 times higher than the Canadian average, according to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a major Inuit organization.
Communities in Nunavut, frigid, and dark for nearly 24 hours a day at times in winter, are reachable only by plane and ship.
Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell said there are many reasons Nunavut has long struggled with suicides.
"One is generational trauma that was brought on by residential schools," Bell said. "If you have a hard day, it can easily turn into a bad week or a bad month. It's quite terrifying."
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Iqaluit, Nunavut; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Cynthia Osterman)