Pope Francis will meet with indigenous leaders and residential school survivors during his July 24-29 visit, according to the Vatican.
Disclaimer: The story below contains details about residential schools that may be upsetting. The Crisis Line for Residential School Survivors and Families of Canada 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 survivors of residential schools in the western province of Alberta, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has announced.
The Vatican released the schedule for the trip on Thursday, with the pope due to arrive in Edmonton, Alta., on July 24.
The next day, he will visit the community of Maskwacis, which housed one of the largest residential schools in Canada, the Ermineskin Residential School.
“The Holy Father will join former students of residential schools across the country in an official program. Alberta is home to the largest number of former residential schools in Canada,” the CECC said.
Pope Francis’ visit comes after he apologized April 1 for abuses by members of the Roman Catholic Church against Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools in Canada.
The apology, issued after days of talks with Indigenous delegates in Rome, was long sought by residential school survivors, whose calls for justice and accountability have intensified over the past year as unmarked graves were discovered on several former school sites.
Many survivors and leaders of Indigenous communities have called on the Pope to travel to Canada to apologize to Indigenous lands.
Between the late 1800s and the 1990s, Canada forced over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children to attend residential schools across the country.
Thousands of people are believed to have died while attending the institutions, which were created and funded by the state but run by various religious denominations, including the Catholic Church.
“We know that the Holy Father was deeply moved by his meeting with indigenous peoples in Rome earlier this year, and that he hopes to build on the important dialogue that took place,” said Bishop Richard Smith, general coordinator of the papal visit to Canada, said Thursday in the CCCB statement.
“We pray that this pilgrimage will be another meaningful step in the long journey of healing, reconciliation and hope.”
In Edmonton, the pope will also participate in an outdoor mass at Commonwealth Stadium to mark St. Anne’s Day on July 26. He will then travel to Lac Sainte-Anne for an annual pilgrimage, the CCCB said.
The next day, Pope Francis will travel to Quebec City, where he is expected to meet with 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-Beaupré, one of the oldest places of pilgrimage in North America. The CCCB said up to 15,000 people are expected to attend.
On July 29, the pope will travel to the final leg of his trip to Iqaluit, in the northern territory of Nunavut, where he will hold a private meeting with residential school survivors before joining a public event.