The Pope has said his trip to Canada – which will begin this coming Sunday – will be a “pilgrimage of penance” to help heal the wrongs done to Indigenous peoples by Catholic priests and nuns who ran abusive residential schools. As reported by Reuters, the trip – which will last until the following Saturday – will include at least five encounters with Indigenous peoples.
Speaking recently in St. Peter’s Square, the Pontiff said: “Unfortunately in Canada many Christians, including some members of religious orders, contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation that in the past gravely damaged native populations in various ways.”
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend Government-funded institutions, and the Church ran about 60 per cent of them. Earlier this year, Pope Francis met with groups of First Nations, Métis and Inuit, and expressed to them “indignation and shame” at what had happened, paving the way for the upcoming visit.
The Canadian province of Alberta is already seeing high demand for the Pope’s public events. The Pope will also visit the provinces of Nunavut and Quebec, the latter with its historically large Catholic and Francophone population. The Pope is set to arrive in Edmonton on Sunday, and on Monday is scheduled to join survivors at the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Maskwacis.
Later, on Monday, the Pope will visit Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, an Indigenous church in Edmonton. On Tuesday meanwhile, the Pope is scheduled to say an open-air Mass at Commonwealth Stadium. The Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations said it has heard from many residential and day-school survivors who hope to attend the events in person.
In the past, Catholic dioceses failed to raise money promised to survivors. When 48 Catholic church entities signed on to fundraise CA$25 million for survivors under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the sum eventually raised was less than CA$4 million. However, bishops vowed last September to put CA$30M toward initiatives for school survivors.
For Archbishop of Regina, Donald Bolen, who oversees a diocese including 25 First Nations communities, the task now is all about building relationships and prioritising the work of reconciliation. The archdiocese has set a goal of contributing CA$2 million, and has raised three-quarters of that so far.
According to CBC News, the archdiocese put on hold a multimillion-dollar campaign to fund cathedral renovations and a pastoral centre. Instead, according to Archbishop Bolen, Church leaders decided to “approach those donors and say, ‘We need to attend to the work of truth and reconciliation first’.”
According to Archbishop Bolen: “In the Church, it’s coming to see history in a new way, to see the history of Catholic engagement with Indigenous Peoples in a new lens, really attentive to the experience of suffering.” That heightened awareness is one the major differences between the “best efforts” campaign of the past, and the current financial commitment, according to the archbishop.
The trip is all the more significant since the Pope cancelled a recent visit to Africa for health reasons, something which helped to fuel resignation rumours. Nevertheless, the Canada visit is seen as particularly significant given the historic role of the Church, and the opportunity the Pope has to mend relations.
The Pope – a white Argentine – will be acutely aware of the history of Indigenous peoples in the Americas, since Indigenous peoples in Argentina were also subject to discrimination and abuse. The Argentine ‘Conquest of the Desert’ saw tens of thousands of Indigenous peoples in Argentina displaced, enslaved and killed.
The Pope’s background in Argentina will likely give him a unique perspective as he reaches out. This “penitential pilgrimage” will be a particularly momentous visit for Indigenous peoples, for Canada and for the Church.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund