Pope arrives in Canada for a 6-day ‘penitential’ trip aimed at Indigenous reconciliation

Pope Francis arrived in Canada on Sunday to an honour drum song ahead of what he describes as a “penitential” trip aimed at advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people over the lasting harm suffered in residential schools.

The Pope told reporters on the plane before it landed in Edmonton that the six-day visit must be handled with care.

The pontiff is also set to travel to Quebec City and Iqaluit.

“I hope, with God’s grace, that my penitential pilgrimage might contribute to the journey of reconciliation already undertaken. Please accompany me with prayer,” said a message on the Pope’s Twitter account.

“I hope that this visit is the beginning of a change in history, a change in the way business is going to be done, and a way for us to begin our healing journey,” Arcand Jr. told CBC News after the arrival ceremony.

“More importantly, I asked the Pope to walk with us and create this new road that needs to be created.”

Francis was also greeted by other church, Indigenous and political dignitaries.

Pope Francis was then set to be driven to the St. Joseph Seminary, where he will be staying during the Alberta portion of the trip.

The Pope plans to visit the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School in the community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, on Monday. That is where Francis is to deliver his first public statement in Canada and is expected to apologize to Indigenous people for abuses they have suffered.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where neglect and physical and sexual abuse were rampant. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Roman Catholic Church.

On April 1, after meetings over several days with First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups at the Vatican, Francis apologized for the deplorable conduct of some church members involved in residential schools and promised to visit Canada.

Indigenous delegates had told the Pope they wanted an apology on Canadian soil.

First Nations leaders in Alberta said they expect the Pope’s presence to open old wounds for Indigenous people and that mental health counsellors will be at the sites. But they also hope the visit will be a step toward reconciliation.

Francis is to travel on Wednesday to Quebec City and deliver a public address following meetings with Trudeau and Simon. The following day, another large mass is scheduled in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.

The visit is set to finish on Friday in Iqaluit before Francis heads back to the Vatican.


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