The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a news release on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021 that confirmed Pope Francis has accepted their invitation to visit Canada on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation regarding the Catholic Church’s handling of Indian residential schools in Canada. Pope Francis’ full statement on the matter can be found here.

Pope Francis' trip will occur after December 2021 when a group of Indigenous survivors, elders, knowledge keepers and youth will travel to the Vatican to meet with the Pope. The Indigenous delegation trip is planned from December 17 to December 20, 2021. The trip is being planned in close collaboration with National Indigenous Organizations and other partners.

The press release indicates the Indigenous entourage will have the opportunity to speak to Pope Francis about the timing, focus, and themes in preparation for his future pilgrimage to Canada.

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“The Bishops of Canada have been engaged in meaningful discussions with Indigenous Peoples, especially those affected by residential schools who have shared stories about the suffering and challenges that they continue to experience,” CCCB President, the Most Rev. Raymond Poisson said. “We pray that Pope Francis’ visit to Canada will be a significant milestone in the journey toward reconciliation and healing.”

The statement by the Vatican about the upcoming papal visit to Canada was brief and did not indicate whether or not Pope Francis will provide an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church to Indigenous survivors and their descendants for how the residential schools operated by the Catholic Church were run, where have been allegations of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. 

Indigenous leaders in Canada have sought a papal apology for decades.

Even Canadian governmental officials have called for a papal apology. Last week, while visiting the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc Nation in British Columbia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in response to a question about an apology, said:

"We have seen, unfortunately, from the Catholic Church, a resistance to taking on responsibility, either financial or moral, for its role in residential schools. I think the millions of Catholics like me across this country expect the church to step up and fulfill its moral responsibilities, its legal and economic responsibilities, its historic responsibilities, but also to practise what it quite literally preaches.”

It is estimated over 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend Indian residential schools for over a century. Over 60 percent of the residential schools were operated by the Catholic Church.

The Indigenous delegation’s December visit and the newly announced papal trip to Canada comes in the wake of announcements of the disclosure of the discovery of graves at various Canadian Indian residentials schools beginning in May 2021.

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