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Pope Francis arrives to attend the Festival of Families in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on June 22.Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press

Pope Francis will visit Canada next month from July 24-29, the Vatican confirmed Thursday, as it released details on a trip that will include a stop at a former residential school site in Alberta, where he will join survivors, as part of a visit that will address the harmful legacy of these schools.

Pope Francis, 85, will first stop in Edmonton, where he will visit nearby Maskwacis, home to the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School site, before making stops in Quebec City and Iqaluit.

The itinerary confirmed the visit is still slated to proceed, after mobility issues – including knee pain that has necessitated the Pope’s use of a wheelchair – led to the recent cancellation of a trip to South Sudan.

The visit’s theme is “walking together,” with private and public events that will emphasize Indigenous participation throughout.

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“It’s a step forward to the path of healing for Indigenous peoples,” said Gilda Soosay, a member of the Samson Cree Nation who is a day-school survivor and part of a church committee preparing for the papal visit, at a press conference. “It’s hopeful. We have to look forward to what’s coming for our grandchildren and the children coming after that. We need to begin a healing process for our people.”

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, general coordinator of the papal visit, said the trip “will be an important step, although one step among many, in this ongoing journey of healing and reconciliation between the church and Indigenous peoples.”

In April, Pope Francis apologized at the Vatican to almost 200 Indigenous delegates and supporters for the abuses perpetrated against children at Canada’s residential schools. “For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry,” he said.

Some residential school survivors have since said they want to see a broader apology on behalf of the church as a whole, rather than for the conduct by some members.

Another apology may be issued while the Pope is in Alberta. “The Pope will ultimately determine what is said, but as the former residential school site on the visit, it is anticipated that the Holy Father will apologize at Maskwacis,” said Neil MacCarthy, spokesperson for the papal visit.

The Catholic-run Ermineskin Indian Residential School was one of the largest residential schools in the country and operated from 1895 to 1975. The school is located in Ermineskin Cree Nation, one of the four nations of Maskwacis, located about 100 km south of Edmonton.

During its operation, the school had as many as 263 students recorded as attending in 1956. According to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, there were incidents of sexual and physical abuse at the school, while records also show children suffered from overcrowding and outbreaks of disease such as tuberculosis. Last August, Ermineskin Cree Nation announced that it had partnered with engineers from SNC Lavalin to use ground-penetrating radar to search for unmarked graves at the school.

The Pope is scheduled to reach Edmonton on Sunday, July 24, where he will receive an official welcome at the airport. The next day he will meet with residential school survivors and representatives in Maskwacis and make a formal address. He will then meet with members of the Sacred Heart parish, an Indigenous church, in Edmonton.

On July 26 Pope Francis will deliver a holy mass at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, which has a capacity of up to 65,000 people, and participate in the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage later that day.

On July 27 he will go to Quebec City, where he will visit with Governor General Mary Simon and meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He will offer a public address with papal events airing on large screens on the Plains of Abraham.

The following day he will go to Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré for a mass where up to 15,000 guests are expected to attend. He will then meet with bishops, priests and pastoral workers in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

On July 29, he will meet with a delegation of Indigenous people in Quebec before flying to Iqaluit, where he will have a private meeting with students of the former residential schools along with young people and elders before a farewell ceremony at the airport.

This is the fourth papal visit to Canada and the first since Pope John Paul II’s trip in 2002.

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