Sask. bishops discuss residential schools with Pope Francis

Residential schools and a possible papal visit to Saskatchewan were among the topics raised during a two-and-a-half hour meeting between Pope Francis and Western Canadian bishops this week.

It was the group's first audience in more than a decade with the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

"We talked about our relationship with our Indigenous peoples in a significant way," Regina Archbishop Don Bolen said in an interview from the Vatican.

"You could see [Francis] was visibly attentive to the pain and challenges of Indigenous people."

Roughly two dozen Roman Catholic and Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops from Western Canada met with Francis as part of a Vatican visit known as "ad limina apostolorum" (meaning "to the threshold of the basilicas of the Apostles").

The ad limina visits are supposed to occur every five years, but there hasn't been one since 2006 due to busy schedules and a change in popes.

Bolen says they talked at length about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its call to action number 58, which calls for the Pope to deliver an apology on Canadian soil for the damage done by residential schools.

The call describes the rampant violence and abuse in the schools, as well as the effects which continue today. The commission's final report notes that the previous pope apologized to the sexual abuse victims of six priests in Ireland.

"We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada," the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report said.

Bolen, Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas and others are attempting to bring Francis to Saskatoon's Wanuskewin Heritage Park for the event.

Francis has not yet visited Canada since becoming Pope in 2013.

Visit for residential school apology still possible

Bolen said it won't happen in 2017, but a papal visit remains an option for 2018 or 2019. He said further "discernment" is required.

"We spoke about the challenges Indigenous people face in our culture and also about the gifts they bring. About our efforts to learn to walk together with Indigenous people," Bolen said.

 "We've got work to do on that …The conversation is still open."

The bishops and the pontiff also talked about the struggles of refugees settling in Western Canada, the "hopes and pains and challenges of young people," the influence of secularization, and the numbers of people serving as priests and in other religious vocations.

"It was a pretty wide-ranging conversation."

The Gravelbourg, Sask.-born Bolen, who worked in the Vatican for several years earlier in his career, said he was impressed by Francis' willingness to listen to them, rather than lecture.

"He was very much like an older brother, wanting to hear about pastoral challenges."

The visit also included mass at the tomb of St. Peter and meetings with many other church officials, Bolen said.

The delegation is due to return to Canada this weekend.