Pope Francis On Sunday, he left Rome for Canada for a chance to personally apologize to indigenous people who have endured decades of violence at boarding schools run by the Catholic Church.
The head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics will be met at Edmonton International Airport by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Pope’s plane took off from Rome shortly after 0900 local time (0700 GMT).
The 10-hour flight was the longest since 2019 for an 85-year-old dad who suffers from knee pain that has forced him to use a cane or a wheelchair on recent trips.
The dad was in a wheelchair on Sunday and used a lift to board the plane, an AFP correspondent who accompanied him said.
Francis’ visit to Canada is primarily to apologize to survivors for the church’s role in the scandal, which the national truth and reconciliation commission has called “cultural genocide.”
Before leaving, the pope tweeted that he was on a “penitent pilgrimage” that “may contribute to the path of reconciliation already travelled.”
During the visit, he will be joined by the head of his diplomacy, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the second most important official of the Vatican.
From the late 1800s to the 1990s, the Canadian government sent about 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children to 139 church-run boarding schools where they were cut off from their families, language and culture.
Many of them were physically and sexually abused by school principals and teachers.
Thousands of children are believed to have died from disease, malnutrition or neglect.
Since May 2021, more than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered at the site of former schools.
An indigenous delegation traveled to the Vatican in April with the Pope – the precursor to Francis’ six-day trip – after which he formally apologized.
– ‘Late’ –
In the community of Maskquatsis, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Edmonton, the Pope will address a crowd of about 15,000 who are expected to include former students from across the country.
“I would like a lot of people to come,” Charlotte Roan, 44, told AFP in June. A member of the Cree Stoat Nation said she wants people to come “to hear it’s not a hoax”.
Others see the pope’s visit as too late, including Linda McGilvery of the Saddle Lake Cree near St. Paul, about 200 kilometers east of Edmonton.
“I wouldn’t go out of my way to see him,” the 68-year-old said.
“It is too late for me, because many people have suffered, and the priests and nuns have already passed away.”
McGilvery spent eight years of her childhood in one of the schools, from the age of six to 13.
“Being at the boarding school, I lost a lot of my culture, my ancestry. It’s a long-term loss,” she told AFP.
After mass in front of tens of thousands of worshipers in Edmonton on Tuesday, Francis will head northwest to an important pilgrimage site, Lake St. Anne.
After a visit to Quebec from July 27 to 29, he will end his trip in Iqaluit, home to the largest Inuit population in Canada, where he will meet with former boarding school students before returning to Italy.
Francis is the second Pope to visit Canada after John Paul II who visited Canada three times (1984, 1987 and 2002).
About 44 percent of Canada’s population is Catholic.