The Vatican has released the program for Pope Francis’ visit to Canada next month, which includes visiting the site of a former Alberta residential school with survivors of the institutions.
The papal visit is set to start in Edmonton on July 24 and end in Iqaluit on July 29. It is to include public and private events with an emphasis on Indigenous participation.
“We know that the Holy Father was deeply moved by his encounter with Indigenous peoples in Rome earlier this year and that he hopes to build on the important dialogue that took place,” said Archbishop Richard Smith, the general co-ordinator of the papal visit to Canada.
“We pray this pilgrimage will serve as another meaningful step in the long journey of healing, reconciliation and hope.”
Francis is expected to deliver an apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools during the journey to Canada.
On April 1, after meetings over several days with First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups at the Vatican, Pope Francis apologized for the deplorable conduct of church members involved in residential schools.
Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Edmonton on July 24 to a brief ceremony at the airport. The next day he is set to join survivors at the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in the community of Maskwacis south of the city.
Later that day, Francis is scheduled to visit Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, an Indigenous church in downtown Edmonton. The church was recently restored after a significant fire in 2020.
The following day, Francis is scheduled to attend a large mass at the Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Edmonton Elks CFL football club. It is to be open to the public and the facility can hold around 65,000 people.
The pontiff is to go to Lac Ste. Anne that evening where a large pilgrimage takes place each year.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that due to the 85-year-old Pope’s advanced age and limitations, Francis will take part in public events for about one hour.
The Pope is next scheduled to travel to Quebec City July 27, where he is to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon. He is to have private meetings at La Citadelle and later deliver a public address.
The pontiff is scheduled to travel to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré July 28 to celebrate mass. Between 10,000 and 15,000 guests are anticipated to attend.
The Canadian bishops said the public is also invited to a dedicated area during the Quebec City leg of the journey to watch the papal events on large screens and take part in Indigenous cultural events.
Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with Indigenous leaders from Eastern Canada July 29 before flying to Iqaluit. There, Francis will have a private meeting with residential school survivors before attending a public community event.
Public events will be free, the Canadian bishops said, and tickets will be announced in coming days.
The program’s release comes as some worried the pontiff’s health may delay the journey to Canada. Earlier this month, a scheduled trip to Congo and South Sudan was cancelled “in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee,” the Vatican said.
Francis has been using a wheelchair for more than a month and has struggled to walk and stand.
Bishop Raymond Poisson, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president, said they are working with all levels of government and Indigenous partners to meet the logistical challenges of the trip and the health needs of the Pope.
“So many people are working diligently to organize this very busy schedule for the Holy Father and participants,” Poisson said in a news release.
“We pray for the health of Pope Francis and also that his pastoral visit to Canada will bring reconciliation and hope to all those who will accompany our shepherd on this historic journey.”
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 23, 2022.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press