The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis is considering an invitation to visit Canada in light of the Canadian bishops’ "pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples."
A communique from the Holy See Press Office on Oct. 27 said that the pope has “indicated his willingness to visit” Canada on a future undetermined date.
The Canadian bishops’ conference welcomed the Vatican announcement stating that “Pope Francis has accepted their invitation to visit Canada on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation.”
“We pray that Pope Francis’ visit to Canada will be a significant milestone in the journey toward reconciliation and healing,” Bishop Raymond Poisson, the president bishops’ conference, said Oct. 27.
Pope Francis is already set to meet with delegations of different Indigenous tribes from Canada at the Vatican Dec. 17-20.
The papal meetings with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit delegations were scheduled following the discovery of unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children at a former Catholic-run residential school in British Columbia and 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Canada’s residential school system was set up by the Canadian federal government, beginning in the 1870s, as a means of forcibly assimilating Indigenous children and stripping them of familial and cultural ties. Catholics and members of other Christian denominations ran the schools. The last remaining federally-run residential school closed in 1996.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Canadian body set up to investigate abuses in the schools, at least 4,100 children died from “disease or accident” at the residential schools.
One of the commission’s calls was for a formal papal apology for the Church’s role in the residential school system.
Pope Francis expressed sorrow at the discovery of Indigenous children’s graves in an Angelus address in June, but did not issue a formal apology.
“The sad discovery further increases our awareness of the pain and suffering of the past. May Canada’s political and religious authorities continue to work together with determination to shed light on this sad event and humbly commit themselves to a path of reconciliation and healing,” the pope said on June 6.
The Canadian bishops’ conference apologized for the Church’s role in the residential school system in September and said that it was working toward the possibility of papal visit to Canada “as part of this healing journey."
The potential visit by Pope Francis would be the first papal trip to Canada since St. John Paul II visited Toronto nearly 20 years ago for World Youth Day 2002.
John Paul II visited Canada three times during his pontificate, making a stop to visit Indigenous people in the Northwest Territories in 1987 and visiting Quebec, Newfoundland, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia during an 11-day trip in 1984.