Following in the footsteps of St. John Paul II, Pope Francis on Thursday asked forgiveness for crimes against the indigenous peoples of Latin America during “the so-called conquest of America.” “I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God,” he said July 9. “My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM (The Latin American Episcopal Council) has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church ‘kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters’.” “I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, 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.” The Pope’s comments came during an address to the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia. Francis is currently in the middle of a July 5-13 trip through Latin America, which began in Ecuador and will continue in Paraguay. In his address, the pontiff spoke out against “colonialism, both old and new, which reduces poor countries to mere providers of raw material and cheap labor, engenders violence, poverty, forced migrations and all the evils which go hand in hand with these.” “Let us say no to forms of colonialism old and new. Let us say yes to the encounter between peoples and cultures. Blessed are the peacemakers,” he said. The Holy Father called for changes that respect the environment, workers, and families. He spoke of the “process of change,” which he described as “(c)hange seen not as something which will one day result from any one political decision or change in social structure. We know from painful experience that changes of structure which are not accompanied by a sincere conversion of mind and heart sooner or later end up in bureaucratization, corruption and failure.” Pope Francis also spoke out against faith-based persecution in the Middle East and around the globe. “This too needs to be denounced: in this third world war, waged peacemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.”