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Pope’s ‘penitential journey’ in Canada begins

Using a wheelchair after the long flight, Pope Francis was welcomed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary May Simon, an Inuk who is Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, along with representatives of indigenous groups at a brief ceremony at Edmonton airport.

Thus the Pope’s weeklong visit begins – one he himself has called a “penitential journey” to stress his intention to apologise for abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries between the 1900s and 1970s in the state-funded residential schools.

The visit was prompted by a delegation of indigenous groups including representatives from the First Nations, Metis and Inuit who met with the Pope at the Vatican earlier this year to request an apology and reparatory trip.

A 2021 discovery of possible remains of some 200 children at the former Kamloops residential school in British Columbia served as a direct prelude to the delegation’s visit to the Vatican and the Pope’s descent on Canada.

With Edmonton as the first stop, where Pope Francis will rest for the first day, he will then visit Quebec, Iqaluit, followed by Nunavut, and then travel to the northern part of the country to Iqaluit before returning to Rome.

Historic apology

A historic apology resulted from the March and April meetings in the Vatican, which called the actions of its missionaries in some Canadian residential schools “deplorable” abuse. An estimated 150,000 children were separated from their families in an effort to educate them to facilitate their existence in the urban and Catholic Canadian settings. Such education forfeited their native culture and languages.

But the call on the Pope for an apology to be delivered on Canadian soil was made as early as 2015 by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The process involved years of effort, lawsuits and calls for reparations. The Canadian government issued a formal apology over the residential schools in 2008. A settlement followed involving the government, churches and some 90,000 surviving students. Moreover, Canada saw billions of dollars paid in reparations to the country’s Indigenous communities.

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