Canadian Indigenous leaders to meet with Pope Francis in March

Canadian Indigenous leaders to meet with Pope Francis in March.

Kamloops Indian Residential School, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada / Bruce Raynor/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 1, 2022 / 11:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will meet with a delegation from Canada the last week of March, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami announced in a joint statement on Tuesday.

“Working closely with the Vatican, new dates have been confirmed. The Holy Father is now scheduled to meet with individual Indigenous delegations the week of March 28, 2022. A final audience with all participants will take place on Friday, April 1, 2022,” said the Feb. 1 statement.

This visit was initially scheduled for December 2021. It was postponed due to a surge in coronavirus cases.

The statement added that this trip is subject to change if the COVID-19 situation worsens, and that they will be “traveling only when we feel it is safe to do so.”

“In the weeks ahead, we will monitor conditions leading up to the revised travel dates and continue our dialogue with delegates, public health officials as well as the relevant government and international authorities,” said the statement.

In addition to bishops, the delegation to Rome will include “Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors, and youth.”

The visit had been in the works since June 2021, following the discovery of what may be unmarked gravesites at the site of former residential schools.

Canada’s residential school system operated from the 1870s until 1996. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were separated from their families and sent to the schools, which were established by the federal government and run by Catholics and members of Protestant ecclesial communities, in order to force assimilation and strip them of familial and cultural ties.

The Catholic Church, or Catholic religious orders, ran more than two-thirds of these schools.

According to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an estimated 4,100 to 6,000 students died while they were enrolled at the schools. The majority of the students died of diseases, including influenza and tuberculosis.

Once the delegation arrives in the Vatican, they intend to ask Pope Francis for an apology for the Church’s role in the country’s residential school system, as well as for the release of all records that relate to the residential schools, and for the return of any Indigenous items from Canada that the Vatican may possess in its archives.

In 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Catholic, requested that Pope Francis issue an apology for the Church’s role in the country’s residential school system. The pope declined to give an apology, but has repeatedly expressed “sorrow” at the various atrocities which occurred at the Church-administered schools.

In late October, Pope Francis said he would be open to the idea of a papal visit to Canada. Should the visit happen, it would be the first time a pope has visited Canada since 2002, when St. John Paul II visited for World Youth Day.

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