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The recent NPR news item Pope Francis Expresses Sorrow But No Apology For Indigenous School Deaths In Canada includes the following quote:

"We commend to the Lord the souls of all the children who have died in the Canadian residential schools, and we pray for the grief-stricken Indigenous families and communities of Canada," Francis added.

What does it mean when the Pope says "We commend to the Lord the souls..."? Is this just an expression of how we should feel? Is it a prayer, hoping for, or asking that the souls will reach heaven? Does the pope have some special power that can be invoked to help these souls get there?

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Commend:

To entrust or commit to the care of someone else.

Thus: "We entrust and commit these souls unto the Lord's care / keeping / mercy."

Speaking as a non-Catholic, the Pope most certainly does not have any special power over the disposition of the departed. Nor would most Christians, I think, believe that this expression (which is used by most Christians AFAIK; see most Christian funeral services) implies anything of the sort. It's just a more elaborate way of saying the most important prayer a Christian can pray: "Kyrie eleison" ("Lord, have mercy").

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When the Pope says “We commend to the Lord the souls…” what does it mean exactly? It it a symbolic gesture, a prayer, something else?

May the Lord have mercy on their souls!

When the Pope says “We commend to the Lord the souls…” what does it means, it means e actually that: When we commend to the Lord the souls of the departed to his mercy, it means exactly that!

We must, nevertheless distinguish between souls before and after the age of reason.

Are the Souls of Aborted Children with the Lord?

Pope Saint John Paul II and the International Theological Commission addressed this question.

The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace (Book of Wisdom 1:1-3).

I have always felt as though I have an army of souls of unborn babies supporting me in my work, interceding before God. I pray to them always to obtain the graces I need to do this work of leading souls to Christ and healing. In the beginning, it was just my own son whose presence I felt, but as the years have passed, I know there are millions of souls, a whole army, behind the work, constantly interceding and praying for the healing and reconciliation of their families.

Many, I now know by name. I even pray in front of clinics where I know they have died. It is no longer “babies die here,” but Sally’s baby, Chris, died here, or Tom’s baby, Mary. There is a personal connection to both the child and the parent.

Many argue about the status of the souls of aborted babies. Some think there is no chance that they are in heaven because they have not been baptized. But, like the Holy Innocents, I believe theirs is a baptism of blood and that Our Merciful Savior and His Mother embrace them at their death.

Pope Saint John Paul II tells those who have lost a child to abortion in The Gospel of Life:

You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord (no. 99, original edition).

In the same sense, the Catholic Church commemorates the souls of children to God’s mercy.

The Church regrets all and any past transgressions about this domain and in this area whatsoever! This I see emphasizing in this answer to which following question addresses: Does the Catholic church support its participation in genocide?

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