Pope Francis visits the site of a former Aboriginal boarding school

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

The Vatican on Thursday released the schedule for Pope Francis’ visit to Canada next month, including a visit to the site of a former federal residential school for Aborigines in Alberta with survivors.

The papal visit begins July 24 in Edmonton and ends July 29 in Iqaluit. It includes public and private events that emphasize Aboriginal participation.

“We pray that this pilgrimage will be another important step in the long process of healing, reconciliation and hope,” said Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, general coordinator of the papal visit to Canada.

Pope Francis is expected to apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools during his trip to Canada.

On April 1, after days of meetings with First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups in the Vatican, the Pope apologized for the deplorable behavior of church members involved in residential schools.

Pope Francis will arrive in Edmonton on July 24 for a short airport ceremony. The next day, he is expected to join the survivors of the Ermineskin Indian residential school in the community of Maskwacis, south of the city.

The Ermineskin boarding school was one of the largest in Canada. Archbishop Smith said he will “represent all boarding schools”. He expects the apologies to be made to the survivors of the school.

Later in the day, Pope Francis will visit the Sacred Heart of First Peoples, a native church in downtown Edmonton. The church was recently restored after a major fire, in 2020.

High Mass is scheduled the following day at Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Edmonton Elks of the Canadian Football League. The Pope must then visit Lac Sainte-Anne, the site of a major annual pilgrimage.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that “because of his advanced age and limitations, Pope Francis is expected to attend public events for up to about an hour.”

In Quebec

The Pope will travel to Quebec on July 27, where he will meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon. He will hold private meetings at the Citadelle, the Governor General’s residence in Quebec, and give a public address later.

The next day, the Pope has to go to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré to celebrate mass in the basilica. Between 10,000 and 15,000 guests are expected.

The Canadian bishops said the public will also be invited to a special room during the Quebec stage to watch Papal activities on large screens and participate in Indigenous cultural events.

On July 29, Pope Francis will meet with indigenous leaders from eastern Canada before flying to Iqaluit. There, the Pope will have a private meeting with survivors of the residential school, before attending a public community event, before returning to Rome.

The Holy Father’s pilgrimage will focus on healing and reconciliation with indigenous peoples, Archbishop Smith said, adding that the Pope has heard the call for reconciliation and the longing for hope.

“It’s part of the journey,” Smith said. But it’s a huge step that offers great positive opportunities to move this relationship forward in the right direction.”

Public events will be free, but Canadian bishops said tickets will be required and will be available in the coming days.

The program’s release comes amid fears that the Pope’s health could delay that trip to Canada. Earlier this month, a planned trip to Congo and South Sudan was canceled “so as not to jeopardize the results of the therapy he is undergoing for his knee,” the Vatican said. Pope Francis has been using a wheelchair for more than a month and has difficulty walking and standing.

Archbishop Smith said the Vatican’s release of the program should provide assurances that Pope Francis will come to Canada.

Bishop Raymond Poisson, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said they are working with all levels of government and Indigenous partners to address the logistical challenges of the trip and the Pope’s health needs.

“We pray for Pope Francis’ health and that his pastoral visit to Canada will bring reconciliation and hope to all who will accompany our pastor on this historic journey,” Bishop Poisson said in a statement.

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