Pope Francis Visits Canada on ‘Pilgrimage of Repentance’ Via Church Schools |  Canada

Pope Francis Visits Canada on ‘Pilgrimage of Repentance’ Via Church Schools | Canada

Pope Francis will spend the next week on a “pilgrimage of penance” in Canada, meeting with indigenous leaders and hostel survivors to atone for the church’s murky legacy in the country.

For the first papal visit to Canada in two decades, the pope plans to visit First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities on his journey from Alberta to Quebec, ending his visit in the arctic territory of Nunavut.

While the head of the Catholic Church will hold public masses and meet state officials and supporters, much of his trip, dubbed “Walking Together,” is expected to focus on reconciliation and acknowledgment of the damage to Canada’s church-run housing system.

For more than a century, at least 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend schools, many of which were run by the Catholic Church.

Last year, ground-penetrating radar confirmed what Indigenous communities had long suspected, that more than 1,000 possibly unmarked graves were hidden in the grounds of dozens of schools across the country.

In April, at a meeting with indigenous delegates at the Vatican, Pope Francis apologized to survivors and formally expressed his remorse for “regrettable” past abuses.

Indigenous leaders have expressed cautious optimism that the visit will draw renewed attention to the damage to the boarding school system – and the challenges of reconciliation.

Francis is expected to deliver his first papal apology when he visits the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Maskwacis, Alberta on Sunday. The school was one of the largest in Canada and operated from 1916 to 1975.

Despite the Church’s shift toward atonement in recent years, its handling of financial accounts is likely to face renewed scrutiny.

As part of a 2007 agreement, the Catholic Church agreed to pay CA$29 million in compensation to survivors, but only distributed a fraction of that sum, citing poor fundraising efforts. However, reports from Canadian media revealed that the church controlled more than CA$4 billion in assets and built gilded cathedrals while claiming it lacked the money to fulfill its promise of compensation. Indigenous leaders have also called for all school records to be released unredacted.

Abuse victims, many of whom languish through the courts seeking justice, have written to the Pope through their lawyers, asking him to direct dioceses and parishes to assist investigators and the police. In a private meeting with the pope in April, the leader of Canada’s largest Inuit organization urged the pope to speed up efforts to extradite and arrest a “devil priest.”

Senior figures within the Church in Canada have already expressed their regret and dismay at the schools’ harmful legacy. But the symbolic nature of the Pope’s visit to issue an apology has prompted some groups to call for other measures.

The Dehcho Indians of the Northwest Territories want the Vatican and federal government to abandon the “Doctrine of Discovery” — a papal decree that paved the way for European colonization of North America.

“It is important to remember that the colonial assault on our nations and cultures was justified and legitimized by the so-called ‘discovery doctrine’, which falsely asserted that our nations did not conquer the lands and waters of Turtle Island long before Europeans did.” ruled arrived,” the nations said in a statement.

While the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops had previously rejected the decree in 2015, leaders want a renunciation of the papal bull to come from the highest figure in the church.

In anticipation that Pope Francis will apologize for the damage the local church has caused, groups working with survivors have spent months preparing cultural support unique to different nations.

“We have to plan for every possible scenario – including the ones we don’t even anticipate – to make people feel safe,” said Angela White, executive director of the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society.

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The group said it would host an event for survivors to see live streams of Francis’ public appearances for families and those unable to attend in person. But the planners are also aware of the large reach of the schools.

“There are former survivors who are not here to witness this. Some have died, some have committed suicide, some are living on the streets,” said Christine Johnson of the IRSSS. “It’s important to recognize these people as well – those who are unable to be a witness or part of it – and to appreciate their experiences as well.”

White said there were a variety of perspectives and emotions leading up to the visit.

“For those who are open to it, there is hope that this is a first step in their wellness journey and healing and forgiveness for all the atrocities that have taken place. Hopefully it helps put the horrors of the past on the shelf so they can move on with their lives,” she said.

“Survivors may not respond immediately. It can come days later. And it can come out in different ways, be it anger, tears or withdrawal. But we want them to be safe. We want them to know that they are not alone on this journey.”

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