Pope Francis will arrive in Canada this afternoon for a week-long “pilgrimage of atonement” for the “cultural genocide” that has been perpetrated on the country’s Catholic schools and churches.
The Pope, 85, took off from Rome this morning for Edmonton, Alberta, in a private plane, along with journalists and Vatican leaders.
Between 1881 and 1996, more than 150,000 Native Canadian children were separated from their families and sent to residential schools.
Many were starved, beaten and sexually abused in what the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called “cultural genocide.”
Francis canceled a trip to Congo and South Sudan earlier this month due to knee ligament problems that required him to use a wheelchair and a cane.
Pope Francis meets with a tour operator as he prepares to board the plane at Fiumicino airport
Francis was pictured being guided to the small private plane in a wheelchair due to knee problems
The health issues led to chatter that he would be stepping down — but Francis quickly brushed this aside, insisting, “I want to live up to my mission as long as God allows me and that’s all.”
Canada will host his fourth papal visit and Pope Francis’ first.
John Paul II visited the country three times, in 1984, 1987 and 2002.
Francis plans to reiterate his apologies for the Church’s historic child abuse in boarding and day schools.
He will meet Native Canadians in their homelands and fulfill a promise to apologize to community leaders for the Church’s historic suppression of Indigenous culture in boarding schools.
Pope Francis seems pleased as he arrives at Rome Fiumicino airport before his flight
Francis will also visit Quebec City and Iqaluit, the capital of the Nunavut territory, before leaving on Friday.
The first blocks of free tickets to the public were packed within 10 or 20 minutes of being made available, a spokesman for tour operators told the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to Reuters.
According to the CCCB spokesperson, thousands of tickets are being reserved for indigenous survivors of residential schools.
Indigenous leaders in Treaty Region 6, the Pope’s Alberta stop, said they were inundated with questions from survivors who wanted to participate.
While Canadian leaders are aware of the high number of children dying in schools since 1907, the issue came to the fore last year with the discovery of suspected unmarked graves at or near former residential school sites.
Responding to pressure from those discoveries, Pope Francis apologized earlier this year during a visit by native delegates to the Vatican for the role of the Catholic Church in the schools.
Now he comes to apologize on Canadian soil.
A Catholic Church in Alberta Prepares for the Third Papal Visit to the Country and Francis’s First
But survivors and indigenous leaders say they want more than an apology.
Many have called for financial compensation, the return of indigenous artifacts, the release of school records, support for the extradition of an accused abuser, and the repeal of a 15th-century doctrine justifying colonial expropriation of indigenous peoples in the form of a papal bull. , or edict.
The setting is important, said Fernie Marty, a member of the Papaschase, a Cree nation in Alberta.
The 73-year-old is a day school survivor — part of a system that, like residential schools, aimed to assimilate indigenous children.
He appreciated the Pope’s apologies in Rome, but said: ‘This is where all the atrocities took place. It makes more sense to come to Canadian soil.’
Marty, an elder of the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton, said the Pope’s visit “presents a tremendous opportunity for my own personal healing.”
But George Pipestem, 79, a member of the Montana First Nation and a survivor of the Ermineskin Indian Residential School, questioned the relevance of a papal apology, just as he criticized Canadian prime ministers’ apologies for the government’s role in schools. doubted.
He said the abusers should be the ones who say sorry: “They’re all gone, though.
“This apology, I don’t care. It’s like nothing. It’s just a word.’
The United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, apologized more than 20 years ago for its role in operating 15 residential schools for Indigenous youth.