Pope Francis leaves Rome for indigenous reconciliation visit to Canada

ROME –

Pope Francis left Rome to begin his visit to Canada with the aim of reconciling with indigenous peoples over the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools.

A plane with the Pope is scheduled to arrive in Edmonton later today.

The six-day visit also sees the pontiff traveling to Quebec City and Iqaluit.

During his stay in Alberta, the Pope plans to visit the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School in the community of Maskwacis.

That is where you are expected to apologize to Indigenous Peoples for the abuses they have suffered.

The pope said last week that he hoped this “penitential journey” would contribute to healing and reconciliation.

An estimated 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where physical and sexual abuse and neglect were rampant. More than 60% of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Treaty 6 Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. said the survivors have suffered unimaginable trauma for many generations. The pope’s acknowledgment of their pain is a crucial step, he said.

“This is an important historical moment for the survivors of the residential school system and the damage caused by the Catholic Church,” Arcand Jr. said last week.

On April 1, following days-long meetings with First Nations, Inuit and Metis groups at the Vatican, Francis apologized for the deplorable conduct of church members involved in residential schools. And he promised to visit Canada.

Indigenous delegates had told the Pope that they wanted an apology on Canadian soil.

First Nations leaders in Alberta said they hope the pope’s presence will open old wounds for indigenous people and that there will be mental health counselors at the sites. But they also hope that the visit will be a step towards reconciliation.

“We are here with you and we are supporting you,” Louis Bull Tribe Chief Desmond Bull told survivors last week.

The Ermineskin School south of Edmonton was one of the largest institutions in Canada. Organizers of the papal visit have said they expect some 15,000 people to be in Maskwacis to see the 85-year-old pontiff.

Organizers have said that due to the pope’s age and physical limitations, he will participate in public events for about an hour.

Later Monday, Francis will meet with parishioners at a downtown Edmonton church. A large open-air mass is planned for Tuesday at the city’s soccer stadium. The Pope then heads to nearby Lac Ste. Anne to take part in an annual pilgrimage.

Francis will travel to Quebec City on Wednesday, where he will meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon and then deliver a public address. The next day another great mass is planned in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre.

The visit will end in Iqaluit on Friday before Francis returns to the Vatican.

Thousands have traveled from different parts of the country to participate in the events.

Mabel Brown, a 77-year-old residential school survivor, traveled to Edmonton from Inuvik to hear the Pope apologize and find forgiveness and healing with other survivors. She hopes it will be an opportunity to move forward in a good way.

“This is a very important moment in history,” he said. “Better things are yet to come.”

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their families who are suffering from trauma invoked by the memory of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 24, 2022.

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