Pope describes trip to Canada as ‘penitential pilgrimage’


VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Asking for prayers ahead of his July 24-29 visit to Canada, Pope Francis described the trip as a “penitential pilgrimage” as part of a commitment to healing and reconciliation with the indigenous peoples of the country.

“Unfortunately, in Canada, many Christians, including some members of religious institutes, have contributed to policies of cultural assimilation which in the past have seriously harmed indigenous communities in various ways,” the pope said July 17. , referring in particular to the involvement of dioceses and religious orders in the management of boarding schools.

From the 1870s through the 1990s, the Canadian government, usually in partnership with Christian churches, operated a residential school system to which over 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students were sent. Their language and customs were forbidden and they often suffered from malnutrition and physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Addressing pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square after the recitation of the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis said the Church’s involvement in schools was why he met in late March and early April at the Vatican of the “representatives of the indigenous peoples, to whom I expressed my pain and my solidarity for the evil they suffered.

“And now I am about to embark on a penitential pilgrimage which I hope, with God’s grace, will contribute to the journey of healing and reconciliation already undertaken,” the pope said.

With his mobility still limited due to a knee problem, Pope Francis’ itinerary is very light, although he will visit the site of a former residential school, a parish for Aboriginal people, a popular place of pilgrimage in Edmonton and another in Quebec, and will meet with Inuit Elders and youth in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

He will celebrate a public mass on July 26 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton and another on July 28 at the National Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré outside Quebec. But the Catholic bishops, who are organizing the visit, are prioritizing places in both liturgies for survivors of residential schools and other members of indigenous communities.

Addressing his “dear brothers and sisters in Canada, Pope Francis half-apologized for not being able to meet everyone. “As you know, I will come among you especially in the name of Jesus to meet and embrace the indigenous peoples.”

“I thank you in advance for all the preparatory work and for the welcome you will give me,” the pope said. “And I ask you to please accompany me in prayer.”

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