Pope Francis leaves Sunday for a six-day trip to Canada. Its main goal is to meet the communities of indigenous peoples as part of the ongoing process of reconciliation and healing of the wounds of indigenous children’s schools run by the Christian churches on behalf of the government. This is a “penitent pilgrimage,” the Pope said.
On his 37th overseas trip, Francis will visit Edmonton, Maskwacis, Quebec and Iqaluit, among others.
Catholic and Protestant, partially government-supported, boarding and day schools for Canadian Indigenous children, including Mestizo and Inuit children, were active from the 19th century through the late 20th century. About 150,000 children were sent to them, and the primary aim of the institutions was their assimilation, in accordance with the ideology of colonialism. Children were often forcibly taken away from their parents and allowed to speak their own language and cultivate their own customs.
Conditions in underfunded schools were sometimes appalling, sometimes the children had to work hard and lived under strict regimes. Some did not return to their homes.
The Vatican, in material for journalists accompanying the pope, cited data from the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, which said more than 3,000 children are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition and abuse in the 100 years since the schools were established.
In 1968, the Canadian government took control of these schools from ecclesiastical institutions. In the following years, schools were closed; the last in the 1990s. It was then that the indigenous peoples’ associations demanded apologies and compensation.
The purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2008, was to investigate the activities of these so-called residential schools. In two of them it was decided to establish museums. The case of compensation for former students is not yet concluded.
There has been talk for years about waiting for an apology from the Vatican after the Oblate Order, which ran many such establishments, previously made this gesture.
Earlier, in 1984, during his first visit to Canada, St. John Paul II had condemned the oppression that afflicted the indigenous peoples. He addressed them and said, “In union with the whole Church, I declare all your rights and their respective duties. I also condemn physical, cultural and religious oppression, and anything that would in any way rob you or any group of what is justly is yours.”.
Calls for a mea culpa were heightened during Francis’s papacy, when the commission’s report was published in 2015.
In June last year, after speaking with the Pope, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he had asked him to come to his country and apologized for the role of the Catholic Church in running residential schools. “I have emphasized the importance of the Pope not only apologizing, but also to Canada’s indigenous people on Canadian soil,” the head of government said.
Early March and April of this year. Francis welcomed several delegations of Canada’s indigenous peoples, including former students of these schools, and it was at these meetings that he announced his trip to their country.
Representatives of the Canadian Church emphasize that the Pope wants to be a “pilgrim of healing and reconciliation”. This purpose of the visit is indicated by the travel program, which provides for daily meetings with delegations of indigenous peoples, including adults experienced in school stays. He will listen to their memories and visit the places where these institutions were carried out.
A week before his trip, Francis sent a special message to all people in Canada.
“First of all, I will come to you to meet and embrace the indigenous peoples in the name of Jesus. Unfortunately, many Christians in Canada, including some members of religious institutes, have contributed to the policy of cultural assimilation, which in past serious damage to indigenous communities in various ways. “- he said.
“That is why I recently welcomed to the Vatican some groups of representatives of indigenous peoples to whom I expressed my pain and solidarity for the evil they suffered,” he emphasized.
“Now I am going on a penitential pilgrimage, which – I hope – will be able to contribute with God’s grace to the path of restoration and reconciliation that has already been taken,” the pope declared.
This will be Francis’ longest trip in nearly three years, as he visited Thailand and Japan just before the outbreak of the pandemic.
The pilgrimage will be a major challenge for the 85-year-old pope, who in recent months had serious mobility problems due to severe knee pain, had to be in a wheelchair for several weeks and underwent special therapy.
Francis departs from Rome on Sunday morning. The first leg of the visit is Edmonton – the capital of the province of Alberta, where it will arrive before noon local time after a flight of more than 10 hours. There will be an official ceremony to welcome him.
The next day, Francis goes to a community near Edmonton called Maskwacis, where he will meet representatives of the Mestizo and Inuit communities. After returning to the regional capital, he visits the Catholic parish of the Sacred Heart.
On Tuesday morning, the Pope will celebrate mass in this city at the Commonwealth Stadium for tens of thousands of people.
In the afternoon, one of the most evocative events of this journey takes place: the participation of the Bishop of Rome in the pilgrimage to Lake St. Anne (Lac Ste. Anne) on her solemnity that day. There he will preside over the liturgy of the word and give the homily.
Each year, approximately 40,000 people flock to the lake in the province of Alberta, northwest of Edmonton. pilgrims. It is the indigenous peoples of Canada that St. Anna especially is worshipped. Oblate missionaries serve in the sanctuary. It was there, in 1991, that the monks apologized for their participation in the residential school system.
On Wednesday, July 27, Francis will fly to Quebec. There, at the Governor General’s residence, he will meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other government officials and indigenous peoples. He will give a speech to everyone.
On Thursday, July 28, the Pope will celebrate mass at the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre National Shrine on the St. Lawrence River, which is visited by one million faithful every year.
At the end of the day, he will meet the clergy at Notre Dame Cathedral in Quebec.
On Friday, July 29, a new meeting between the Pope and the delegation of Quebec’s indigenous people was announced. Francis then flies to the town of Iqaluit in Nunavut territory, south of the Arctic Circle. About 60 percent of the population is Inuit. The Pope will visit a primary school there and meet former students of residential institutions, and then with young and old people.
From the city with an arctic climate, Francis flies to Rome where he arrives on July 30 in the morning.
The Canadian episcopate, in the statement issued, welcomed the program of, as it underlined, “Francis’s historic visit”.
“We pray that this pilgrimage will be the next important step in the long journey of healing, reconciliation and hope,” said Archbishop Richard Smith, coordinator of the visit.
From Rome Sylwia Wysocka