Pope Francis Heads to Canada for Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples

Pope Francis left Rome to begin his visit to Canada with the aim of reconciling the Catholic Church with indigenous peoples and offering them a formal apology for past abuses in residential schools.

The plane carrying the sovereign Pope will arrive in Edmonton on Sunday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will greet him upon his arrival.

During his six-day visit to the country, the Pope will also visit Quebec and Iqaluit.

In Alberta, Pope Francis will visit the ermineskin boarding school in the community of Maskwacis.

Here he is expected to offer the Catholic Church’s official apologies to the indigenous peoples of Canada for the abuse they have endured.

The pope said last week that he hoped the “journey of penance” 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 survivors have suffered unimaginable trauma over many generations. The Pope’s recognition of their pain is a critical step, he said.

“This is an important historic moment for survivors of the residential school system,” said Arcand Jr. last week.

On April 1, after several days of meetings with First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups in the Vatican, Pope Francis apologized for the deplorable behavior of Church members in these residential schools. It was then that he promised to visit Canada.

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

First Nations leaders in Alberta have said they expect the pope’s presence to open old wounds for indigenous peoples and for mental health counselors to be on hand. They hope the visit will be a step towards reconciliation.

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

The Ermineskin residential school, located south of Edmonton, was one of the largest in Canada. Organizers of the papal visit said they expect about 15,000 people to be in Maskwacis to see the 85-year-old Pope Francis.

Organizers pointed out that due to Pope Francis’ physical limitations, he will attend public events for about an hour.

On Monday, the head of the Catholic Church will meet with parishioners at a church in downtown Edmonton. On Tuesday, there is a big open-air mass at the city’s football stadium. The Pope will then travel to nearby Lac Sainte-Anne to participate in an annual pilgrimage.

Pope Francis is expected on Wednesday in Quebec City, where he will meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon and is expected to deliver a public address there. On Thursday, he will preside over high mass at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, near Quebec.

The papal visit ends Friday in Iqaluit, Pope Francis’ last stop in Canada before returning to the Vatican.

Thousands of people from different parts of the country are expected to attend Pope Francis’ events in Canada.

Mabel Brown, a 77-year-old residential school survivor, traveled to Edmonton from Inuvik to hear the Pope’s apologies and find forgiveness and a path to healing with other survivors.

“It’s a very important moment in history,” she said. Better things are yet to come.”

A hotline is in place to help residential school survivors and their loved ones who may have been traumatized by the memory of past abuse.

Call 1-866-925-4419 to reach the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program.

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