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The final audience stands with Pope Francis and members of the Indigenous delegation where the Pontiff delivered an apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada's residential school system, at the Vatican, Friday, April 1, 2022.Vatican Media/The Canadian Press

Pope Francis will visit Canada in July with stops in Quebec City, Edmonton and Iqaluit, the Vatican confirmed Friday – a trip that many Indigenous leaders hope will include a stronger apology and further action from the Catholic Church to address the harmful legacy of residential schools.

The visit, from July 24 to July 30, is restricted to a few stops owing to the Pope’s increasingly limited mobility. Francis, who is 85, is dealing with pain in his right knee along with sciatica, and used a wheelchair for the first time publicly this month.

The Pope’s expected visit to Canada sparked mixed reactions. Some First Nations leaders said they are disappointed the locations do not include sites where unmarked graves were announced last year, such as in Kamloops, B.C.

“It’s disappointing to say the least,” said Terry Teegee, regional chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. “There should have been more involvement with our First Nations leadership and speaking to survivors and actually visiting a residential school site.”

In a statement released Friday, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs called for the itinerary to be reconsidered, and for another stop to be added.

“If the Pope had time and the ability to travel to any of the unmarked graves that have been discovered ... that would be important because those places are extremely powerful, and moving to visit,” said Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron.

She noted that there were no formal consultations with the three national Indigenous organizations about locations, and she hopes they and survivors will have input into further planning. Ms. Caron also hopes that the Pope will issue a “stronger apology” than the one given at the Vatican, encompassing the Catholic Church as a whole rather than individuals’ roles in the harms done to her people.

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Confirmation of the Canadian visit was announced six weeks after Francis apologized at the Vatican to almost 200 Indigenous delegates and supporters for the abuses perpetrated against the children in Canada’s residential schools. Some of the survivors had waited decades for the apology. “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.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon the Pope to apologize to survivors and their families, in Canada, for the abuses children suffered in the government-funded schools, most which were run by the Catholic Church.

More than 150,000 Inuit, Métis and First Nations children were removed from their homes to attend the schools in a system designed to strip them of their identity, culture and language. More than 4,100 children died, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, amid abuse, neglect, disease and malnourishment.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a release that Pope Francis is expected to visit the site of a former residential school while he is here. The CCCB’s Neil MacCarthy said Indigenous partners were involved in planning, and that this dialogue will continue.

This will be the fourth papal visit to Canada and the first time in two decades that a pope has visited the country: The last time was in July, 2002, when Pope John Paul II came to the Toronto area for World Youth Day; he also held a papal mass with more than 800,000 people in attendance.

“We are immensely grateful that the Holy Father has accepted our invitation to continue the journey of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples of this land,” the CCCB said in a release.

It noted the significance of the three stops. Edmonton has the second-largest number of Indigenous peoples in urban areas in Canada; Iqaluit has the highest population of Inuit and the Pope was invited there by Inuit representatives; and Quebec City has one of the oldest and largest pilgrimage sites in North America.

“We are pleased to be able to welcome him in Iqaluit in July for a visit centred on truth, justice, healing, reconciliation and hope,” said Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an organization that represents 65,000 Inuit in Canada, in an e-mailed statement.

First Nations leaders in B.C. have previously expressed dismay that Kamloops – where the announcement nearly a year ago of unmarked graves at a former residential school site made international headlines – is not under consideration as one of the stops.

Leaders have also urged the Pope to visit Saskatchewan, including the Muscowequan Indian Residential School, another site where unmarked graves were discovered last year, noting that the province had one of the highest numbers of such schools in the country.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in an interview, adding that there was “absolutely not” sufficient consultation with survivors, survivors’ families and leaders.

Mr. Cameron, whose parents attended residential schools, said the visit should include an apology and, importantly, action on next steps. These steps include compensation, sharing of historic documents and bringing perpetrators of abuse to justice.

Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton is the general co-ordinator of the trip. At a press conference Friday, he said the Pope’s visit will provide an opportunity for him to express to Indigenous peoples “his heartfelt closeness and to address the impact of residential schools here in Canada.”

He said that a visit to the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage site, about 79 kilometres west of Edmonton, is a “strong possibility.”

A full itinerary and schedule is expected to be released six to eight weeks before the visit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the announcement. “It is very good news that the Pope is coming to Canada this summer,” he said. “It will be extremely important that he deliver the apology from the Catholic Church to residential school survivors and their families.”

With files from Marieke Walsh in Ottawa.

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