The Vatican has officially announced that Pope Francis will be present on Canadian soil this year. “He will travel to Canada from July 24 to 30, accepting invitations from civil and ecclesiastical authorities, as well as indigenous communities,” the press office of the Holy See said on Friday. The main purpose of this visit is to once again apologize for the role the Church played in the old boarding schools for indigenous children. Francis will work in Edmonton, Iqaluit and Quebec.
Raymond Poisson, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Canada, said that in this way the pontiff would continue “the path of healing and reconciliation with the indigenous peoples of this country.” Between 1883 and 1996, a network of 139 federal boarding schools (run by religious groups, mostly Catholic) operated in Canada to forcefully assimilate about 150,000 indigenous minors. The discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves in several of these centers since last May has sparked worldwide consternation and increased demands for the Pope to apologize. Anglican, Presbyterian and United Church of Canada leaders did the same in the 1990s.
On April 1, Francis finally gave way to a delegation of Canadian local authorities who went to Rome. “I am ashamed and hurt by the role that some Catholics, especially those in charge of education, have played in all these things hurting you, insults you have suffered, and disrespect for your identity, your culture and including their spiritual values,” the pontiff said. “For the unfortunate behavior of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask God for forgiveness and I want to tell them from the bottom of my heart that I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking for their forgiveness,” he added.
A few days later, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops reported that they had invited the Pope into the country; also that there have already been conversations with the Holy See regarding various aspects of this visit. Following Rome’s confirmation, Richard Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton and official travel coordinator, noted that Francis’ priority is meeting with indigenous communities.
The Catholic leader will be in Edmonton, Canada’s second largest city with the largest indigenous population. The Pope is scheduled to visit a former juvenile boarding school near this city in Alberta. You will also be in Iqaluit, the main urban center of the Inuit. He will also host events in Quebec. Several indigenous representatives said this Friday that the papal trip is a step in the right direction, although they expressed regret that the itinerary does not include Kamloops, a community located in British Columbia where the first unmarked graves were discovered.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the visit in a statement. Trudeau specifically highlighted the “courage and determination of the survivors” of the former boarding schools to make this trip happen. The Canadian prime minister at various times asked the pontiff to apologize for the role of the Church in these centers. Francis’ visit will be the Pope’s fourth visit to Canada. John Paul II traveled to this North American country in 1984, 1987 and 2002.
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