Last Friday, the Holy See Press Office announced that Pope Francis is to visit Canada from 24th – 30th July, including the cities of Edmonton, Québec and Iqaluit. Prior to this announcement, the Pope in recent weeks has had a series of meetings with several delegations of Canadian indigenous peoples in the Vatican. He met with the delegations of Métis and Inuit on 28th March and with the First Nations delegation on 31st March. He then received all three delegations together, along with representatives of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference on 1st April. The meetings provided the Pope with an opportunity to “listen and to offer space for the painful stories shared by the survivors,” and to address the ongoing trauma and suffering faced by Indigenous Peoples to this day, especially after news broke last year of the discovery of mass graves in the Kamloops Indian Residential School, with the bodies of hundreds of indigenous people. The discovery marked the symbol of a cruel past, which from 1880 to the final decades of the 20th Century, saw government-funded institutions run by Catholic organisations try to educate and convert indigenous youth. Pope Francis expressed his indignation and shame “for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you [the Indigenous Peoples], in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values.” On that occasion, the Pope also said that he had been enriched by their words and testimonies and would be happy to benefit again from meeting them when he visits their native lands. The Canadian Bishops Conference in response has said “We are immensely grateful that the Holy Father has accepted our invitation to continue the journey of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples of this land.”
Of the cities to be visited, Edmonton is home to the second-largest number of Indigenous Peoples living in urban Canadian cities and about 25 residential schools were located in Alberta – the most of any province in Canada. Iqualuit, for its part, is home to close to 8,000 people and has the highest population of Inuit (3,900) of all Canadian cities. And Quebec City is home to Ste. Anne-de-Beaupré, one of the oldest and most popular pilgrimage sites in North America which draws Indigenous Peoples and others from throughout Canada and from around the world annually.