A meeting between Pope Francis and a delegation of Canadian Indigenous people at the Vatican is being planned and expected before the end of the year.
A statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said the pastoral visit will include “the participation of a diverse group of Elders/Knowledge Keepers, residential school survivors and youth from across the country.”
The meeting has been in planning stages for over two years, said the bishops, but the pandemic stalled the project. The CCCB said it remains committed for a 2021 meeting, which it hopes will “foster meaningful encounters of dialogue and healing,” especially in the wake of the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
“The event will likewise provide Pope Francis with a unique opportunity to hear directly from Indigenous Peoples, express his heartfelt closeness, address the impact of colonization and the implication of the Church in the residential schools, so as to respond to the suffering of Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma,” said the CCCB statement.
“It is our hope that these forthcoming encounters – and the important collaboration and partnership that has supported the planning – will lead to a shared future of peace and harmony between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church in Canada.”
There have been calls from various group, both inside and outside Catholic circles, for a formal apology from Pope Francis for the Church’s role in residential schools, a government-sponsored program that supported a policy of assimilation that took children from their families and stripped them of their culture.
“The Catholic bishops in Canada have genuinely heard the sincere invitation to engage wholeheartedly with the past and are deeply committed to take truly meaningful active steps together with Indigenous Peoples in view of a future filled with greater respect and cooperation,” said the CCCB, noting its reconciliation efforts with Indigenous communities in recent years.
“Mutual listening is the beginning of our common efforts to bring about shared and long-lasting reconciliation, authentic healing and bridge building.”
The bishops said they regard the upcoming meeting with the Pope as an “important step on the journey of reconciliation and shared healing.”
The last time Canada’s Indigenous representatives made a journey to Rome to meet the pope was 2009, when leaders had an audience with Pope Benedict, who “expressed his sorrow at the anguish” caused by some members of the Church with the abuse suffered at residential schools.
Pope Francis spoke about the Kamloops discovery after the Angelus on June 6. He told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square: “I join the Canadian bishops and the whole Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people who have been traumatized by this shocking news. This sad discovery further heightens awareness of the pain and sufferings of the past.”
The discovery of the bodies, he said, shows a need to turn away from every form of colonization and “walk side by side in dialogue, mutual respect and recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the daughters and sons of Canada.”
-With files from Catholic News Service