Warning: The story below contains details of residential schools that may be upsetting. Canada’s Indian Residential School Survivors and Family Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
Montreal, Canada – Pope Francis will begin his visit to Canada next month by meeting Indigenous residential school survivors in the western province of Alberta, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has said.
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The Vatican on Thursday released the schedule for the trip, with the pope scheduled to arrive in Edmonton, Alberta on July 24.
The next day, he will visit the community of Maskwacis, which was home to one of the largest residential schools in Canada, Ermineskin Residential School.
“The Holy Father will join former residential school students from across the country as part of a formal program. Alberta is home to the largest number of former residential schools in Canada,” the CCCB said.
Pope Francis’s visit comes after he apologised on April 1 for the abuses that members of the Roman Catholic Church committed against Indigenous children forced to attend Canada’s residential schools.
The apology, delivered after days of talks with Indigenous delegates in Rome, was long-sought by residential school survivors, whose calls for justice and accountability have grown louder over the past year as unmarked graves were discovered at several former school sites.
Many survivors and Indigenous community leaders called on the pope to visit Canada to deliver an apology to Indigenous lands.
Canada forced more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children to attend residential schools across the country between the late 1800s and 1990s.
Thousands are believed to have died while attending the institutions, which were established and funded by the state but run by various religious denominations, most notably the Catholic Church.
“We know that the Holy Father was deeply moved by his encounter with Indigenous Peoples in Rome earlier this year, and that he hopes to build on the important dialogue that took place,” Archbishop Richard Smith, general coordinator of the papal visit to Canada, said in Thursday’s CCCB statement.
“We pray this pilgrimage will serve as another meaningful step in the long journey of healing, reconciliation and hope.”
In Edmonton, the pope will also take part in an open-air mass at Commonwealth Stadium to mark the feast of St Anne on July 26. He will then travel to Lac Ste Anne for an annual pilgrimage, the CCCB said.
The next day, Pope Francis will travel to Quebec City, where he is expected to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General Mary Simon and Indigenous leaders, the Vatican said.
He will hold mass on July 28 at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, one of the oldest pilgrimage sites in North America. The CCCB said as many as 15,000 people are expected to attend.
On July 29, the pope will travel to his final stop on the trip in Iqaluit, in the northern territory of Nunavut, where he will hold a private meeting with residential school survivors before joining a public event.