A plane carrying Pope Francis landed Wednesday in Quebec’s capital city for the next leg of what the pontiff has described as a “penitential” Canadian journey focused on addressing the harms of Indigenous residential schools.
Francis, in a wheelchair, was greeted on the tarmac by residential school survivors, Indigenous leaders and other dignitaries, including Quebec Premier François Legault.
The Pope left Edmonton on Wednesday morning and arrived mid-afternoon in Quebec City, before travelling to the Citadelle of Québec for private meetings with Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Some people arrived early with lawn chairs on the Plains of Abraham, where the pontiff is expected to greet members of the public from his popemobile. There was a heavy police presence on the grounds, as concerts and other artistic performances took place throughout the afternoon.
For residential school survivor Omer St-Onge, the Pope’s visit represents a “small step” in a journey of healing.
But St-Onge, who comes from the Innu community of Uashat-Maliotenam on Quebec’s north shore, said he is hoping for more than just an apology.
“It’s time for the Pope to decide to give us back artifacts, objects that were taken from us that are all at the Vatican and in churches, documents about young people who died,” said St-Onge, whose birth name is Uapan Ushekatok.
Fabien Jaubert, also from Uashat-Maliotenam, said he had come to honour the memories of residential school survivors, including his grandmother and aunts.
“I’m expecting an apology from the Pope,” he said in an interview on the Plains of Abraham ahead of the pontiff’s arrival. “I would like to hear him make one on behalf of the church, instead of just certain actors.”
Among those present at the site was a group of Indigenous marchers who walked 275 kilometres from the site of the former Pointe-Bleue residential school in the Innu community of Mashteuiatsh in Quebec’s Saguenay region. The group, who started walking last Thursday, were greeted with cheers as they arrived on stage.
The Pointe-Bleue institution was the last of the federally funded, church-run schools to close in Quebec, in 1991. Chantal Niquay, who attended the school, described the march as “liberating,” and said it was helping her heal from the scars of the past.
“I had my children young and I wasn’t totally there for them, but today I understand why. We give each other so much love,” the 43-year-old woman said.
Official events in Quebec were slightly pushed back after a separate flight carrying organizers and Indigenous leaders invited to the Citadelle was delayed.
After visiting the Plains of Abraham, the Pope is to go to the residence of the archbishop of Quebec, where he plans to stay during his time in the province.
On Thursday, Francis is to hold a mass at the shrine of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, east of the city, then attend vespers with church officials at the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec.
On Friday, he is to make a brief stop in Iqaluit before heading home to the Vatican.
The Alberta portion of the Pope’s journey included a visit to the Indigenous community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton. Standing there before residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders, he apologized for abuses at the institutions, most of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church.
He later joined a pilgrimage at Lac Ste. Anne, northwest of Edmonton — a place of spiritual significance for many Indigenous Catholics that is thought to have healing properties. Francis blessed the lake and sprinkled some of its water on people in the crowd.
The Pope’s Twitter account posted Tuesday, after the visit to the pilgrimage site, that “as a Church, all of us need to be healed from the temptation of choosing to defend the institution rather than seeking the truth.”
— With files from Frédéric Lacroix-Couture