Pope Francis has arrived in Canada, where he is expected to personally apologize to indigenous people who have endured decades of abuse in boarding schools run by the Catholic Church.
The head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholic landed at Edmonton International Airport shortly after 11 a.m. local time.
He was greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, the country’s first Indigenous Governor General, as well as Indigenous leaders, at an airport ceremony that began with drumming and singing.
Francis then received welcome gifts from the indigenous leaders, shaking or kissing their hands and talking to each before the short ceremony ended.
“Today I asked my dad to come with us,” Six First Nations Confederate Grand Chief George Arcand told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“It was very humiliating to talk to your Holiness.”
Roseanne Archibald, national head of the Indigenous Assembly, who also hailed the Pope, criticized the “one-sided” organization of the trip and the “archaic” nature of the church, which has no women in leadership positions.
“We don’t think it was survivors” from boarding schools, she told reporters at the airport. “It was more about the church promoting the idea of the church by raising funds for the church.”
On the 10-hour flight from Rome, Francis told journalists traveling with him that “we must be aware that this is a journey of repentance.”
“This is a journey of repentance. Let’s put it this way, that’s his spirit,” he said.
The 85-year-old pontiff’s 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.”
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.
The welcoming ceremony for the Pope took place at the Edmonton International Airport. Source: A MONKEY / SIRO FUSCO/EPA
Many of them were physically and sexually abused by school directors 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, ahead of Francis’ six-day trip, after which he formally apologized.
But doing it again on Canadian soil will mean a lot to the survivors and their families, for whom their ancestral land holds a special meaning.
The flight was the longest since 2019 for the dad, who suffered from knee pain that required him to use a cane or a wheelchair on recent trips.
On Sunday, the Pope was in a wheelchair and used the lift platform to board a plane in Rome, and was also in a wheelchair on the runway in Edmonton.
The pope canceled a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan in early July due to a knee problem that recently forced him to use a wheelchair and cane.
After resting on Sunday, Dad will travel on Monday to the community of Maskwatsis, about 100 kilometers south of Edmonton, and speak to a gathering of approximately 15,000 people, 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 that this is 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’s too late for me, because many people have suffered, and the priests and nuns have already passed away.”
Miss McGilvery spent eight years of her childhood in one of the schools, from the age of six to 13.
Pope Francis called a week-long trip to Canada “repentance”. Source: A MONKEY / Eric Gay
“Being at the boarding school, I lost most of my culture, my ancestors. It’s a long-term loss,” she told AFP.
Indigenous leaders told Reuters they want more than a personal apology from the Pope.
Many called for financial compensation, the return of indigenous artifacts, the release of school records, support for the extradition of a accused of abuse, and the repeal of a 15th-century doctrine justifying colonial disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples in the form of a papal bull or decree.
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 on July 27-29, he will end his journey in Iqaluit, the capital of the Northern Territory of Nunavut, home to Canada’s largest Inuit population.
There, he would meet up with former boarding school students before returning to Italy.
In total, Francis is expected to give four speeches and four sermons, all in Spanish.
Francis is the second Pope to visit Canada after John Paul II who visited Canada three times (1984, 1987 and 2002).