The Pope will deliver a historic, private apology to indigenous survivors of abuse committed over many years at Catholic-run facilities when he travels to a former residential school in Canada on Monday night.
The head of the 1.3 billion Catholics in the world came in Edmonton the day before for a six-day visit that had been eagerly anticipated by the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities.
A national truth and reconciliation committee has referred to the scandal as "cultural genocide," and the 85-year-old pontiff's trip, which he has termed as a "penitential tour," is primarily intended to apologize to survivors for the church's part in it.
About 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children were transported by the Canadian government into 139 residential schools managed by the church between the late 1800s and the 1990s, where they were separated from their families, languages, and cultures. Thousands are thought to have perished from disease, hunger, or neglect, and many were subjected to physical and sexual abuse by headmasters and teachers.
Prior to Francis's six-day visit, a group of indigenous peoples visited the Vatican in April and met with the Pope, who then officially apologized. But since the land of their ancestors holds a special value for survivors and their families, doing so once more on Canadian soil will be extremely significant.
In the town of Maskwacis, about 100 kilometers south of Edmonton, where the former Ermineskin residential school, one of the biggest in Canada, was located until its closing in 1975, Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive at 10 a.m. on Monday (2 a.m. on Tuesday AEST).
He will give his first speech in Spanish to an estimated 15,000 people after offering a silent prayer in the cemetery. Former pupils from all over the nation are scheduled to attend.
At 4.30 p.m., Francis will travel to Edmonton's Sacred Heart Catholic Church of the First Peoples, one of the oldest churches in the city, where he will address indigenous groups once more.
George Arcand Jr., the grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, made the following statement on national television: "I hope that this visit is the beginning of a shift in history, a change in the way business is going to be done, and a way for us to begin our healing path." I requested that the Pope accompany us while we build the new route that is necessary.
At the locations of the previous schools, more than 1300 unmarked graves have been found since May 2021, shocking Canadians around the nation.
Slowly but surely, the nation is starting to acknowledge this protracted, tragic period in its past.
Even though it is eagerly awaited, some survivors and their families are divided on the papal visit.
Many anticipate symbolic actions from Francis, such as the return of some indigenous artifacts that have been kept in the Vatican for years.
Deborah Greyeyes, 71, remarked that her "entire reserve" was going to hear Francis speak and added, "It means a lot to me" that he arrived.
Ms. Greyeyes, who lives in Edmonton, belongs to the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, which is Canada's largest indigenous community.
“I think we have to forgive, too, at some point,” she told Agence France-Presse, but “a lot of stuff was taken away from us”.
Tuesday after celebrating mass in front of tens of thousands of worshippers in Edmonton, Francis will travel to the Lac Sainte Anne, a significant pilgrimage site.
He will complete his journey in Iqaluit, the capital of the northern territory of Nunavut, which is also home to the biggest Inuit community in Canada, after spending July 27–29 in Quebec City.
Before leaving for Italy, he will speak with former residents of residential schools there.
Pope Francis, who has been dealing with knee discomfort that has necessitated the use of a cane or wheelchair on recent trips, said that the journey to Edmonton was the longest he had taken since 2019. The Pope boarded the aircraft using a lifting platform on Sunday while using a wheelchair. He was also using a wheelchair on the tarmac in Edmonton.
Following John Paul II, who visited the country twice in the 1980s and once again in 2002, Francis is the second pope to do so.