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Visit by Pope Francis to Quebec City stirs mix of emotions among faithful

Pope Francis is spending less than 48 hours in Quebec City, and his mission is a sombre one of penance, but those lining up hours to catch a brief glimpse of the pontiff say they are balancing that with the thrill of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It’s the first time a pope has visited the provincial capital since John Paul II came in 1984, becoming the first pope to visit Canada when he landed in Quebec City and went on a 12-day cross-country trek.

“It’s important for us, firstly, to participate with Indigenous communities and show solidarity with them on their road to reconciliation with the church,” said Daoud Darazi, a Montrealer who arrived with his family, intent on seeing the Pope in person Wednesday and having his three-month old son blessed by the pontiff — which he did, minus the papal kiss.

“It is important for us because the Pope for us is like the presence of God and blessing our baby, it’s a great blessing,” Darazi said.

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Desneiges Petiquay, an Atikamekw woman from Manawan, Que., is a survivor of the Pointe-Bleue residential school on Quebec’s North Shore. She was excited to catch a glimpse of the Pope, although she also said would have been disappointed if he had not repeated his apology Wednesday for the church’s role in residential school abuses.

“I’m not vengeful, I forgive him,” Petiquay said in a brief interview. “I have a lot of faith as well, and it’s been a long time that I’ve wanted to see him.”

While Francis’s arrival drew curious onlookers along the streets of Old Quebec, events in Quebec City Wednesday and Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre Thursday were not at capacity.

The Plains of Abraham can host 100,000 people easily but much of the main area on Wednesday was empty as people clamoured near the security fencing to see the popemobile.

At the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, where 10,000 were expected to attend outdoors, the crowd numbers were smaller, with officials unable to provide an exact outdoor attendance. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said organizers were happy with the turnout, particularly the Indigenous participation.

“I would never have thought to see him like this,” said Bernard Poulin of St-Jacques-de-Leeds, Que., as he watched with his wife. “I think he’s been well received in Quebec. People that have come out have been happy to see him.”

Ahead of the visit, Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador told The Canadian Press what he wanted the faithful to keep in mind during the Pope’s visit.

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“It’s a time for healing, it’s a time for reconciliation for our peoples but it’s also a time for understanding and really understanding the extent of this very dark chapter in Canadian history,” Picard said. “The least we could ask is (people) to be open-minded about the intent behind this visit.”

Corrine Fraund, a Southern California resident, was determined to come to Quebec City for the papal visit.

“This is a historical event for the Catholic Church, Indigenous communities, for Canadians and Americans as well, because it wasn’t just Canadians who had children disappear,” said Fraund, who waited all day Wednesday on the Plains for the Pope and planned to return to watch Thursday’s mass on the big screens.

A devout Catholic, Fraund said she’s glad the church isn’t “sweeping it under the rug,” referring to residential schools.

“I think it’s an amazing thing, I think he’s an amazing pope to tell you the truth, but I am fully aware (of the reason for his visit) and it broke my heart when I found out we could do something like that,” she said.

The rest of the Quebec visit is expected to be without as much fanfare with two private meetings before flying to his final Canadian stop, Iqaluit, around midday Friday.

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