Pope Francis will come to Canada at the end of July, but his state of health has limited his itinerary to visiting only one boarding school.
On July 25, the day after his arrival in Edmonton, the Pope will visit the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Maskwacis.
“His declaration of principle is scheduled to take place in Maskwacis,” said Archbishop of Edmonton Richard Smith, who is also the national coordinator for the Pope’s visit.
Since this boarding school will be the only such site that Pope Francis will visit, it will not just be a local event, but one of “national significance,” Smith said.
He was joined by Indigenous representatives from the Edmonton area in a virtual announcement on June 23, which followed the release by the Catholic bishops of Canada of the pontiff’s itinerary.
“What we’ll have to look at is how we can bring representatives from other parts of the country to the residential school site (and) how the message itself, of course, can be national,” Smith said. “So it’s about finding that balance between a local visit that has to be national in scope and respecting the obvious fact that the pope has serious mobility issues.”
The Ermineskin boarding school was one of the largest in Canada, operating from 1916 to 1975.
Smith could not confirm if Maskwacis would be the site of the Pope’s official apology on Canadian soil or what that apology would consist of.
Smith acknowledged concerns had been raised following the Pope’s apology to the Vatican on April 1 when he met with Indigenous delegations from Canada. At that time, Pope Francis was apologizing for the wrongs of individuals. He did not apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church.
However, Smith said, “it is important to recognize that when the Pope speaks, that is how he speaks. He certainly speaks personally, but he always speaks on behalf of the church. He is the head of the church after all.
Gilda Soosay, chairwoman of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows parish council in Maskwacis, said she spoke to people who had “mixed emotions about the whole apology”.
Soosay, a Samson Cree Nation member and day school survivor, said it was important to her that the Pope apologize to residential school survivors for the abuse they endured, “that he s act of value for this person, it is up to that individual to accept it or not to accept it.
The Pope’s agenda, as planned, will include stops in Edmonton and area, Quebec City and Iqaluit. His engagements have been limited to one-hour installments and will be a combination of private and public affairs.
“Wherever the Pope goes, in the immediate vicinity, those who would be closest to the Pope, closest to him should be survivors of the residential school legacy. How that’s proportionate…that’s something we’re working closely with the respective leaders,” Smith said.
“We recognize that what drives all this is of course the recognition and the need of the survivors in particular to be close to the Pope in these different places where he will have his visit.”
Smith called the planning an “extraordinarily complicated business”.
On July 25, Pope Francis will visit the Church of the Sacred Heart of First Peoples, an Aboriginal church in downtown Edmonton.
“It’s important for my own healing that the pope chose to come here,” said Fernie Marty, a Sacred Heart Church elder and day school survivor. It was also important to him that the Pope apologize on Canadian soil, Marty said.
On July 26, Pope Francis will celebrate an outdoor mass at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. The establishment can accommodate up to 65,000 people. The program will incorporate Indigenous traditions into the gathering.
In the evening, he will travel to Lac Ste. Anna. The annual pilgrimage draws tens of thousands of Indigenous participants from across Canada and the United States. Programming will be offered throughout the day leading up to the Holy Father’s participation in a prayer service.
“People are looking forward to being with him, to praying with him in Lac Ste. Anne,” said Father Garry LaBoucane, Catholic priest Oblate of Mary Immaculate and spiritual director of Lac Ste. Anne’s pilgrimage. LaBoucane is Métis.
On July 27, Pope Francis will fly to Quebec. He will visit La Citadelle, where he will hold private meetings and deliver a public address.
On July 28, he will go to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, where he will celebrate mass. Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is one of the oldest and busiest places of pilgrimage in North America.
On July 29, Pope Francis will be in Iqaluit for the afternoon where he will have a private meeting with residential school survivors before attending a public community event hosted by Inuit.
He leaves for Rome in the early evening.
These sites were chosen by the Vatican, Smith said, and nothing can be added to the itinerary.
Smith said the church “wanted to do its part” by covering travel and accommodation costs to bring survivors to the pope. However, how this will happen is still being determined, he said, but expects much of this work to be done with the bishops of the dioceses working at the local level.
Smith also anticipated that other sources of funding might be available.
Fr. Alan Forgerty, CEO of Catholic media outlet Salt and Light, speaking from Rome, said talks with cardinals in Rome indicated the pope’s visit to Canada was seen as having a “global dimension”.
“So local, national, but also global with Indigenous people around the world looking to us,” Fogerty said.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com