Pope Francis said Sunday a visit to Canada, where he will meet indigenous survivors of abuse committed at residential schools run by the Catholic Church, was “a penitential pilgrimage”.
“Next Sunday, God willing, I will leave for Canada,” he said at the end of the Angelus prayer, in an apparent reference to a knee problem which caused him to postpone a trip last month to Africa.
The pontiff is expected to use his July 24 to 30 visit to Edmonton, Quebec, and Iqaluit to repeat an apology he delivered to Canadian delegations who visited the Vatican in April. He had “expressed my sorrow and solidarity for the harm they have suffered”, Francis told the crowds gathered in Saint Peter’s square on Sunday.
“And now I am about to make a penitential pilgrimage, which I hope, with God’s grace, will contribute to the journey of healing and reconciliation already undertaken,” he said. The trip to Canada is an important step in the 85-year old’s efforts to address the global scandal of clerical sexual abuse of children and decades of cover-up.
Around 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were enrolled from the late 1800s to the 1990s in 139 residential schools across Canada, as part of a government policy of forced assimilation. They spent months or years isolated from their families, language and culture, and many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers. Thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect. More than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered since May 2021 at the schools.
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