Indigenous leaders, Catholic church bishops meet ahead of Pope’s visit

·3 min read

Residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders met face to face with Roman Catholic bishops in Winnipeg this week to discuss what they expect to see and hear next month during Pope Francis’s planned visit to Canada.

The group of residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders, who met for two days of meetings with bishops at the Delta Hotel in downtown Winnipeg, included former Assembly of First Nations (AFN) regional chief for Manitoba Ken Young, and former AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine.

Young, talked to media on Wednesday following the meetings and said although he was satisfied with the Pope’s apology for the church’s longtime role in Canada’s residential school system, which was made in Rome back in April, he believes the pontiff must also make an apology and show regret when he is on Canadian soil during his trip, which is planned for July 24-29.

“I expect the pope to apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church in the right away,” Young said. “How that works, and how it works in terms of words we have agreed to work on with the bishops, because the bishops can have influence on what the pope says when he comes to our homeland.

“He is coming to Treaty land, and he has to say ‘I am sorry for what happened to your people and your children on behalf of the Catholic Church,’ and how he says it is the prevailing and outstanding issue, and it requires discussion.”

Back on April 1, after days of private meetings between Pope Francis and First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates from across Canada at the Vatican, Pope Francis said publicly that he was “very sorry” for the “deplorable actions” of some within the Catholic Church who were involved in Canada’s residential school system, which ran for more than a century in Canada.

The pope is now expected to have additional meetings with Indigenous leaders during his planned trip to Canada, which will see him travel to Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut in late July.

Richard Smith, who is the Archbishop of Edmonton, was one of the bishops invited to this week’s meetings in Winnipeg, and he said that while the Vatican and the pope are open to input on the wording of any apology, that wording will ultimately be decided on by Vatican officials, and by the pontiff.

"I have a sense he will do the right thing, he will say the right thing whatever that ends up being, because he really wants this to be a step forward,” Smith said

Some Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors are still hopeful that more locations can be added to the pope’s trip, but Smith said he believes that is unlikely because of the current health and mobility of the pontiff, which he said has been on the decline recently.

“I don’t know this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people were advising him not to travel at all,” Smith said.

Smith said he’s “astonished” Francis is going ahead with the visit to Canada considering his current health and limited mobility, adding the pope recently cancelled a planned trip to Lebanon because of his health.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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