Pope Francis is coming to Edmonton this summer to meet Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and may drop by the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage.
The Vatican announced May 13 that Pope Francis would visit Canada July 24-30 at the invitation of this nation’s civil, church, and Indigenous communities.
The announcement comes a little more than a month after a delegation of 30 Canadians, including St. Albert’s Gary Gagnon, visited Francis in Vatican City. There, on April 1, Francis delivered a formal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, who is co-ordinating Francis’s visit, said in a press conference that Francis is coming here “to meet with the Indigenous people of this land” as part of a “pilgrimage of healing, reconciliation, and hope.”
While Francis had been invited to visit many sites in Canada, Smith said this trip will be based out of Edmonton, Quebec City, and Iqaluit due to the Pope’s limited mobility. (Francis is 85 and uses a wheelchair.) An online FAQ on the visit noted that Edmonton has Canada’s second largest urban Indigenous population, while Alberta had the most residential schools in the nation.
Smith said Francis will listen and speak with Indigenous Canadians, connect with area Catholics, and address the legacy of residential schools during his trip.
While details of the trip are still in the works, Smith said there is a strong chance Francis will visit Lac Ste. Anne, as he expressed a desire to do so and scheduled his trip to coincide with the annual Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage.
“Certainly we will have the Pope visit a former residential school site,” Smith said, in addition to other significant locations.
This will be the second time in history the Pope has come to Edmonton — the previous visit was by Pope John Paul II, who in 1984 spoke before about 125,000 people in a field near what is now the Edmonton Garrison.
Gagnon said it is a great honour to have a head of state such as Pope Francis visit this area, adding the Pope is an important figure to many Catholics.
“He’s a gift to a lot of people,” Gagnon said, and a leader of change to many.
Francis’s visit also reflects the 58th Call to Action of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Gagnon said. That item calls on the Pope to apologize to survivors, their families, and their communities for the church’s role in the abuse of Indigenous students in Catholic-run residential schools, and to deliver said apology in person in Canada.
“There’s a lot of hurt from the past,” Gagnon said, and having Francis apologize for it on Canadian soil could help some people heal.
“This is where all Canadian Indigenous people are from. They’re from this land. They’re from the soil.”
Gagnon said he hopes Francis will make it to the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage, as the lake is a significant site for many Indigenous people. He is also happy to hear Smith reaffirm that this trip will be planned in co-operation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
Treaty Six Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. said this visit is of great interest to seniors in Alexander, many of whom are residential school survivors. The Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations will work with about 17 First Nations and church officials in the coming days to help plan the Pope’s visit.
“For many years we’ve been dealing with over-representation of our people in jails and in the health-care system and child welfare system,” Arcand said, as well as increasing awareness of the fallout from residential schools.
“The Catholic church and other churches need to play a role in helping us find a solution.”
Arcand said he hopes Francis will visit a community with a residential school in Treaty 6 territory (St. Albert had two such schools), and that this visit will spur further action on reconciliation in Canada.
“I think it’s just the beginning.”
Details on Francis’s visit can be found at www.papalvisit.ca.