Pope Francis is expected to visit at least three cities during his late July trip to Canada, CBC News has learned.
Sources involved in planning the trip said the Pope was likely to make stops in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit during what was scheduled for a four-day trip to the country. CBC News did not identify the classified sources because they are not authorized to speak publicly.
The Pope initially announced the planned visit during a Vatican meeting on April 1 with an Indigenous delegation from Canada, where he offered an early apology for the actions of individual members of the Roman Catholic Church in Canadian housing schools.
Sources said a trip with three planned stops – to be funded by the Canadian Catholic Church, with possible federal dollars – was being discussed ahead of the Vatican meeting.
The delegation traveling to Rome expects Pope Francis to offer a scathing apology on Canadian soil for the church’s role in running a housing school, which will fulfill a key call from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
National Council President Métis Cassidy Caron said a Vatican advance team had been scouting Iqaluit, Quebec City and Edmonton in preparation for the trip.
Caron said his organization had also discussed plans for a papal visit through a committee set up by the Canadian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
“We hope the Pope will come to Canada,” Caron said.
“He will apologize, deliver, hopefully, a stronger apology … that goes a little further and acknowledges and acknowledges the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools. Not just those individuals.”
Vatican announcement expected soon
If the Pope goes to Edmonton, Caron says he hopes he will also take the opportunity to visit Lac Ste. Anne’s Place of Pilgrimage, designated a Canadian national historic site, 78 kilometers to the northwest.
“This is a special site,” he said. “Spiritual site, healing site for the Métis people.”
In Rome, Pope Francis said he wanted to attend the annual pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne, which ran from July 25 to 28 this year.
“This year, I want to be with you in those days,” Pope Francis said in Italian on April 1, in his final remarks to the Indigenous delegation.
The Pope’s planned day trip to Iqaluit follows the invitation of Inuit president Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) Natan Obed, who was asked by Inuit leaders to advocate for a papal visit to the capital Nunavut.
“Given that the Catholic Church has had a footprint in the Canadian Arctic for more than 100 years, we felt it was very important for the Pope to see our homeland,” Obed said.
“And understand the larger Inuit to Indigenous context of the Catholic Church’s presence and also the role it plays in running a housing school.”
Obed said ITK was involved in a site visit by Vatican officials last Friday in Iqaluit which he described as positive.
“We recognize our role as helping rather than being instructive to the Pope about what he should or should not do,” Obed said.
In a statement to CBC News, the Canadian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CCCB) said it was consulting with national Indigenous organizations on dates and locations, which have not yet been finalized, and would continue those discussions for a visit program if and when confirmed.
The Vatican has the final say, and sources say an official announcement is expected in the coming weeks.
The Pope’s visit is different from the ’84 cross-country trip
Pope Francis accepted several invitations from Indigenous leaders to visit their territories, including from First Nations leaders in Manitoba and Kúkpi7 (Head) Rosanne Casimir from Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc.
Casimir gave the Pope a handwritten invitation to spend time in his community, which sparked a reckoning at the housing school last year after announcing the discovery of what is believed to be more than 200 unmarked graves near the former site of the Kamloops Indian Housing School in British Columbia.
Some sources worry the decision about where the Pope is going may disappoint some.
But because the 85-year-old Pope has significant health limitations, they said centers that could accommodate as many surviving school residents as possible would be chosen to represent Northern, Western and Eastern Canada.
Obed said indigenous peoples should not be held responsible for how the trip went or be “gatekeepers for winners and losers” where the Pope visits.
“This is their show. This is what they want to do,” Obed said. “The Catholic Church and the Vatican must have this.”
This papal visit is expected to be much shorter than Pope John Paul II’s 12-day cross-country trip in 1984 — covering every region of the country — and is entirely dependent on the pope’s health.
Pope Francis has a chronic nerve condition called sciatica, which causes pain from his lower back to his feet. He walks with a limp and has difficulty using stairs, so accessibility is a key factor for any site he visits.
A papal visit usually takes at least a year to plan, so decisions about his visit to Canada are made in a much shorter time frame. It will also take place amid his planned trip to the African continent in early July.
“The bishops of Canada are grateful that Pope Francis has accepted their invitation to visit Canada on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation,” CCCB wrote in a statement to CBC News.
“Given the Holy Father’s advanced age and desire for a simple and humble visit, we can expect Canada’s visit to reflect this reality both in the timeframe of the pilgrimage and the geography of such a visit, given Canada’s size. We can anticipate that the visit to Canada will be very different from before.”
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