Pope Francis will travel to Canada as planned next month, the Vatican said Thursday, confirming the long-planned trip will go ahead even though the Roman Catholic religious leader is dealing with some health issues.
The Pope, who will be in Canada from July 24 to 29 with stops in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, is coming here to apologize in person for the abuse suffered by Indigenous people at the hands of the Catholic Church.
"We know that the Holy Father was deeply moved by his encounter with Indigenous Peoples in Rome earlier this year, and that he hopes to build on the important dialogue that took place," Archbishop Richard Smith, an organizer of the Pope's visit to Canada, said in a statement.
"We pray this pilgrimage will serve as another meaningful step in the long journey of healing, reconciliation and hope," Smith said.
According to an itinerary released by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Pope will start the visit in Edmonton with a brief ceremony at the airport before calling it a day to get some rest after a long flight from Europe.
The next day, on July 25, he will meet with survivors at the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School in the community of Maskwacis, south of the city. Ermineskin, which was operational between 1916 and 1973, was one of the largest residential school sites in the country.
Later that day, Francis is scheduled to visit Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, an Indigenous church in the city's downtown core — a church that was recently restored after a devastating fire in 2020.
On July 26, the Pope will celebrate an open-air mass at the city's 56,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium, an event that will be open to the public. The Canadian bishops said the service will incorporate Indigenous traditions as part of the gathering.
He'll then travel to Lac Ste. Anne, Alta., a pilgrimage site where, for more than a century, First Nations and Métis Catholics have travelled to celebrate the Feast of Saint Anne, who is said to be the mother of Mary and the maternal grandmother of Jesus.
The next stop is Quebec City, where the Pope will meet with the prime minister and the Governor General at La Citadelle and then deliver a public address.
WATCH | Pope will visit Canada in July as planned, says Vatican:
On July 28, he'll preside over a mass at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a national shrine, where some 10,000 to 15,000 guests are anticipated to attend. Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is one of the oldest and most popular pilgrimage sites in North America, regularly drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to a place where a number of miracles are said to have happened.
Later that day, he'll participate in an evening prayer service with bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians at the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral.
The Canadian bishops said the public will be able to participate in the Quebec events as there will be a dedicated area on the Plains of Abraham on July 27 and 28 where people can witness "Indigenous cultural expression" and watch papal events in the province on big screens.
On July 29, the Pope will meet with a delegation of Indigenous people from eastern Canada before heading north to Iqaluit.
While in Nunavut, the Pope will participate in a private meeting with residential school survivors and host a delegation of young people and elders at a local primary school before heading back to Rome.
Trip to Africa cancelled
There was concern in some circles that the Pope would cancel the Canadian visit after the Vatican pulled the plug on another one of his trips abroad — a multi-day tour of Africa that was scheduled for early July.
Vatican officials said the Pope had to pull back from the planned travel to the Republic of Congo and South Sudan "at the request of his doctors" so as not to "jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee."
The Pope had been due to visit South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Church of Scotland to make a joint, ecumenical appeal for peace in the war-torn country.
Because of the ongoing health issues — the Pope has recently been seen in a wheelchair due to mobility concerns — the Canadian bishops said it is expected that the Pope's participation in public events will be "limited to approximately one hour."
The Pope has been using a wheelchair due to strained ligaments in his right knee that have made walking and standing difficult and painful.
He has refused so far to get surgery, and has instead received injections, kept the knee as immobile as possible and walking with a cane or the help of an aide.