The program for Pope Francis’ trip to Canada next month includes a visit to the site of a former Alberta residential school with survivors, the Vatican said Thursday.
“We pray this pilgrimage will serve as another meaningful step in the long journey of healing, reconciliation and hope,” said Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, the general co-ordinator of the papal visit to Canada.
Smith said he is pleased to hear the Pope’s visit to Canada is going ahead, and he is looking forward to the visit.
“We are really pleased and really excited to be able to welcome him.
“The Pope’s visit to Canada will be an important step, although one step among many in this ongoing journey of healing and reconciliation between the church and Indigenous peoples.”
Pope Francis is expected to deliver an apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools during the journey to Canada.
“It’s also one moment, I would suggest, also in the broader context of the entire desire of the Canadian population to move this forward, to move ahead in healing and reconciliation among all of us. And I am convinced the Holy Father is going to be able to signal, in wonderful ways, that possibility.”
On April 1, after meetings over several days with First Nations, Inuit and Metis groups at the Vatican, the Pope apologized for the deplorable conduct of church members involved in residential schools.
Alberta visit schedule
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.
Gilda Soosay, a member of Samson Cree Nation, is calling the Pope’s visit to Maskwacis a “miraculous event” for her people.
“It’s a step forward to the path of healing for the Indigenous people. We have to look forward to what’s coming for our people, our grandchildren and the children coming after that,” said Soosay, who is part of the church committee in Maskwacis preparing for the pope’s visit.
“We need to begin a healing process for our people here in Maskwacis.”
Ermineskin was one of the largest institutions in Canada. Smith said it “will have a representative role for all residential schools.” He anticipates the apology will come in front of survivors at the school.
Francis is also scheduled to visit Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, an Indigenous church in downtown Edmonton, on July 25. The church was recently restored after a significant fire in 2020.
Fernie Marty, an elder originally from Cold Lake, Alta., said he is filled with excitement and nervousness at meeting Pope Francis.
“We have a unique history happening here. It’s important for my own personal healing to continue,” said Marty, who is a day school survivor and works at Sacred Heart Church.
The following day, Francis is scheduled to attend a large mass at Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Edmonton Elks CFL football team. It is to be open to the public and the facility can hold about 65,000 people.
The pontiff is to go to Lac Ste. Anne that evening where a large pilgrimage takes place each year.
“People are looking forward to being with him. Praying with him at Lac Ste. Anne,” said Rev. Garry LaBoucane, a Metis priest and spiritual director of the pilgrimage.
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.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the federal government will be providing support to transport survivors to the events, but he did not provide a cost. He said there is a lot of planning taking place to avoid a “logistical nightmare.”
Miller added that he expects to attend events in Alberta.
Pope to travel from Alberta to Quebec, Iqaluit
The Pope is next scheduled to travel to Quebec City on 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 then scheduled to travel to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre on July 28 for a 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 on July 29 before flying to Iqaluit. There, Francis will have a private meeting with residential school survivors before attending a public community event.
The Pope’s priority during the visit is the relationship with Indigenous Peoples, Smith said, adding the pontiff has heard the cry for reconciliation and the longing for hope.
“This is one step in the journey,” Smith said. “But it’s a huge step that has enormous positive possibilities associated with it in moving this relationship forward in a good way.”
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 and has struggled to walk and stand.
Smith said the Vatican’s release of the program should provide an assurance that Pope Francis will come to Canada.