Residential school drama: Pope flies to Canada

Pope Francis is expected on Sunday in Canada for a “misguided pilgrimage” during which he will apologize for the church’s role in the tragedy of residential schools for indigenous people. Such a gesture has been expected in the country for years.

The 85-year-old pontiff is expected to land in Edmonton, western Canada, at 7:20pm (Swiss time) on the first three legs of his trip. He will then visit Quebec, the capital of the Nunavut territory in Canada’s northern Arctic archipelago, and Iqaluit before departing on Friday.

Before leaving Rome, the Pope sent a message on Twitter to his “beloved brothers and sisters of Canada”.

Path of Reconciliation

“I am coming among you to meet the indigenous people. By God’s grace, I hope that my penitential pilgrimage can contribute to the path of reconciliation already undertaken. Come with me in prayer,” he writes.

The visit is above all dedicated to the indigenous, ancestral Native American people who today represent 5% of Canada’s population and who identify themselves as three groups: First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

The latter were subjected for decades to a policy of forced assimilation, notably through boarding schools for children, subsidized by the state but largely administered by the Catholic Church.

6000 deaths

Between the end of the 19th century and the 1990s, about 150,000 tribal children were forcibly enrolled in more than 130 of these institutions. They were cut off from their families, their language and their culture, and were often subjected to violence. And up to 6,000 children died there.

Little by little, Canada is opening its eyes to this past, qualified as “cultural genocide” by the National Commission of Inquiry: the discovery of more than 1,300 anonymous graves in 2021 near these boarding schools created a shock wave.

“This historic journey is an important part of the healing journey” but “much remains to be done,” Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederation of Treaty 6 First Nations said Thursday at a news conference in Edmonton.

Argentine Jesuits who apologized to the Vatican in front of a Canadian indigenous group last April may also make symbolic gestures by bringing back their own works of art that have been kept at the Vatican for decades.

“too late”

On Sunday morning, the city of Edmonton was preparing to welcome the sovereign pontiff, who had to use a platform lift to board his flight in a wheelchair on Saturday. With a flight time of more than ten hours, it will be the longest trip since 2019 for an Argentine pontiff.

After a day of rest on Sunday, François is due to meet for the first time with members of the indigenous population, who are expected to be up to 15,000 people, on Monday morning in Maskwazi, about a hundred kilometers south of Edmonton. Alberta was the province with the largest number of residential schools.

AFP Charlotte Rhone, 44, who lives in this poor community, said: “I wish more people would come to hear that it was not found”.

Others view the phenomenon as bitter. “For me, it’s too late because so many people are affected,” laments Linda McGilvary, 68, near Saint-Paul (200 km east of Edmonton), who spent eight years of her childhood in boarding school.

“I lost my culture, my ancestry, it’s a loss of many years,” laments the woman from the Cree Nation of Saddle Lake, who “wouldn’t take a detour” to see the pope.

On Monday afternoon, the spiritual leader of 1.3 billion Catholics is scheduled to deliver a second address at Sacred Heart of First Peoples Church in Edmonton. Tuesday, he will celebrate mass at Edmonton Stadium, where 65,000 people are expected, before heading to Lake Sainte-Anne, the site of an important annual pilgrimage.

Francis is the second Pope since John Paul II to visit Canada.

This article was published automatically. Sources: ats / afp

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