The Saskatchewan Indigenous delegate who represents the province’s residential school survivors says “now is the time to lobby” to convince the Pope to consider Saskatchewan as a stop during the upcoming visit for July 24 to 29.
Retired chief from Okanese First Nation Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier says there’s still time for delegates, Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors to lobby together.
“The delegates across Canada … we all lobbied for our our our homelands to be recognized for the Pope to visit,” said Day Walker-Pelletier.
So now the three (regions) that are (selected), I guess we all have to find a way now to … include ourselves, our nations and our survivors when he comes to Edmonton. So, I guess the planning begins and end to find ways to get our survivors to that area.”
On May 13, 2022, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) sent out a press release stating that the historic visit will be focused on Indigenous healing and reconciliation as Pope Francis will be stopping in Edmonton, Iqaluit and Quebec City.
Despite Indigenous leaders attempts to convince the Pope to consider Saskatchewan as one of the stops, it wasn’t the case. The CCCB stated the reasoning for the Vatican’s selection of the three stops is to consider the Pope’s health and limit travel for him.
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The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Regina Donald Bolen said he shares disappointment that the Pope is not coming to Saskatchewan but encourages everything to work together to bring as many residential school survivors as possible to where he comes.
“I have to say I’m so pleased that he’s actually going to come,” said Bolen. “I was at an audience he was present at last week, and he was in a wheelchair. And I just thought, ‘Oh, boy, what if this doesn’t happen?’
“It’s a clear sign of his commitment and determination to to come. But his health limitations aren’t keeping him from coming.”
When asked if Bolen has any hope that Pope Francis may consider Saskatchewan as one of his stops, he said it isn’t likely that would happen but people should think of preparing for the visit that’s coming up.
“I think we need to start planning now,” he said. “How can we make the best of the experience and connect First Nations communities and especially survivors to the visit.”
As for Day Walker-Pelletier, she said there’s still hope that Pope Francis could reconsider.
“I think as survivors and the people involved, we still need to continue to lobby. We don’t stop lobbying. We don’t stop advocating for Saskatchewan. We continue. Who knows? He may may find a time to do another stop. We don’t know that,” she said.
“A lot of … that delegation are probably all disappointed because he didn’t come to our region. But that’s not stopping (us) so continue to advocate. That’s what I would recommend.”
The visit comes after the Pope’s historic apology last month in Rome in front of the Assembly of First Nations delegation for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools in Canada.
The CCCB stated that Indigenous partners at a local and national level will develop a program for the papal visit. A full program and itinerary will be released six to eight weeks prior to the visit.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.