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Residential school survivors preparing for papal visit in Edmonton

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Several residential and day school survivors are getting ready to head to Edmonton ahead of the Pope’s visit to Canada. Marney Blunt reports. – Jul 20, 2022

Several residential and day school survivors are getting ready to head to Edmonton ahead of the Pope’s visit to Canada.

Pope Francis will begin a seven-day trip in Canada in Edmonton on Sunday, July 24, with his visit focusing on apologizing for the abuse and lasting trauma inflicted by Catholic church-run residential schools. The Pope will also visit Quebec City and Iqaluit community.

Former chief of the Assembly of First Nations and residential school survivor Phil Fontaine is travelling to Edmonton, and says the Pope’s trip will be a significant milestone in the journey toward reconciliation.

Read more: Some Quebec residential school survivors opt not to see Pope Francis

“It’s a significant moment for us,” Fontaine told Global News. “We’ve accomplished this, through our resilience and persistence.”

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The visit comes a few months after several Indigenous delegations went to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis, asking for his apology in the church’s role in residential schools. Fontaine says he hopes this will help many find forgiveness.

“There has to be a point where people forgive,” he said. “Otherwise this can go on forever and I don’t think it’s healthy for us to allow such a situation to persist over time.”

Fontaine said he hopes the Pope expands his apology while on Canadian soil.

“When we heard him speak in Rome, (he wasn’t) speaking of the institution, of the Catholic church as responsible for the abuse. It was the individuals,” Fontaine said. “My expectation at Maskwacis is that the expanded apology will reference the Catholic church, the institution as responsible.”

He also says there is still a lot of work to be done.

“The apology is not the end of the story, it’s the beginning,” he said.

Andrew Carrier, a day school survivor and current minister with the Manitoba Metis Federation, will be travelling to Alberta for the Pope’s visit, along with several other survivors, elders, and youth.

“It’s a great opportunity to be recognized and heard, but it’s also an opportunity to maybe let go of some of the anger. He’s asked for forgiveness,” Carrier told Global News, adding that hearing the Pope apologize for the church’s role in residential schools was something that impacted him immensely.

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Read more: ‘All hands were on deck:’ Ontario company tasked with designing chairs for Pope visit

“That has for me, as a Catholic, really touched my heart because I’ve held in a lot of anger over the years and mistrust of the Catholic church from my experiences,” he said. “So this is really an opportunity to be heard and to recognize that we’re no longer going to be silent. We are speaking out and we are working towards a path of healing.”

Carrier says his road to healing has been a lengthy one, and it was only recently that he was able to speak about the abuse he endured in day school.

“The emotional trauma you suffer as a child is kept with you. Before I wasn’t able to speak without crying about it because the emotional impact is so raw,” he said.

“To be heard is a great opportunity and to recognize the truth, the truth of being harmed as a child. It validates that.”

Manitoba Metis Federation president and day school survivor David Chartrand is also heading to Alberta and Quebec City for the Pope’s visit. While the Pope will not be visiting and blessing Metis leader Louis Riel’s grave during his trip, Chartrand has an alternate plan.

“I’m taking Louis Riel to him, I’m taking one of my bigger statues in my office, and I’m taking (it) for him to bless,” Chartrand said. “If we ever get close enough. If not, we’ll give it maybe to (the) archbishops with him, to give it for him to take back to the Vatican.”

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Chartrand said he hopes this trip marks the start of a new beginning.

“I want everybody to walk out of there with a sense of healing, a sense of beginning, a new beginning, and a new path forward.”

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