Pope Francis maintains, despite his knee pain, his visit to Canada in July, where he will apologize for the abuses and violence committed in Catholic boarding schools against pupils from indigenous populations.
The 85-year-old Francis will go to Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit, the Holy See said, on a trip during which he is expected to apologize for the violence in pensions run by the Catholic Church.
Less than two weeks ago, the pontiff canceled his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan due to knee pain, which has forced him to use a wheelchair. He also suspended other acts, which has increased rumors about his health, and about his own future as head of the Catholic Church.RELATED
However, the trip to Canada, from July 24 to 30, is an important step to address the issue of sexual abuse of children by religious, and the cover-up of these for decades.
“I ask God for forgiveness” and “I join my brother Canadian bishops in apologizing,” the Supreme Pontiff had declared in April during an audience at the Vatican before delegations from the Métis, Inuit and indigenous communities of Canada.
The discovery in recent months of hundreds of anonymous burials of children has shaken Canada and many survivors are waiting for a firm gesture from the pope.
Between the late 19th century and the 1980s, some 150,000 indigenous, mestizo and Inuit children were forcibly recruited into 139 boarding schools in Canada, where they were cut off from their families, their language and their culture.
Thousands died, mostly from malnutrition, disease or neglect, in what the Committee for Truth and Reconciliation called “cultural genocide” in 2015. Others were victims of physical or sexual abuse.
More than 1,300 anonymous children’s graves have been found on the sites of former boarding schools in the past year, and searches continue across the country.
Francis was personally invited by the Inuit delegates to visit their region during his meetings with them in March and April at the Vatican.
For his 37th trip since his election in 2013, Francis will travel July 24-26 to Edmonton, Alberta, where he will meet for the first time with members of “First Nations,” Métis and Inuit delegations.
He will then go to Québec from July 27 to 29, to celebrate mass at the National Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, one of the main pilgrimage sites in North America.
On July 29, he will travel to Iqaluit, a city in Canada’s Great North, home to the largest number of Inuit in the country. There, Francis will meet with former students from the boarding schools, before returning to Rome.
“The pilgrimage of the Holy Father will be focused on recovery and reconciliation with indigenous peoples,” the episcopal conference of Canada reacted in a statement.
“Due to his advanced age and limitations, we believe that Pope Francis’ participation in public events will be limited to around one hour,” it added.
“We know that the Holy Father was deeply moved by his meeting with indigenous peoples in Rome this year and that he looks forward to continuing the important dialogue that took place,” said Monsignor Richard Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton, who is coordinating the visit.
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