On penitential pilgrimage, Pope Francis arrives in Canada

Pope Francis and members of the Canadian First Nations meet during the pontiff's arrival ceremony in Edmonton, Canada, July 24, 2022.
Pope Francis and members of the Canadian First Nations meet during the pontiff’s arrival ceremony in Edmonton, Canada, July 24, 2022.| Photo: Ciro Fusco/EFE/EPA

O Pope Francis arrived this Sunday in Edmonton, in the Canadawhere he was received with drums and traditional songs by representatives of indigenous peoples, to whom he will apologize on this trip for the responsibilities of Catholic church in the treatment to which they were submitted in the schools where they were admitted for the so-called “assimilation processes”. After a flight of more than ten hours and due to the time difference, the organizers of the trip preferred that the pope rest the rest of the day at the seminary in this city in the Canadian province of Alberta to better face the rest of the agenda that will start on Monday.

Due to knee problems, the pope took the plane down by elevator, not the stairs, and in a wheelchair went to one of the airport’s hangars where he was expected by the Governor General of Canada, Mary Simon -, the first indigenous woman to occupy this position -, and by the prime minister Justin Trudeau. In addition to the indigenous authorities and representatives, soldiers from the 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade were also present.

The pope was greeted by a troupe of drummers and singers from the Alexis nation, one of several native peoples of Canada, who sang their traditional songs; then, in profound silence, with Simon, Trudeau and the Pope seated, the exchange of greetings took place between the delegations. This was a change from usual protocol that will likely be repeated over the next few days to prevent the pope from spending too much time on his feet. The ceremony was brief, as will all the events of this trip, so that Francisco, who is 85 years old, doesn’t get too tired.

In Canada, Francis’ official agenda will begin on Monday with a visit to a former boarding school in Maskwacis, where he will meet with indigenous populations and deliver his first speech. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 139 government-funded schools were founded in Canada, most of them run by the Catholic Church, in which around 150,000 indigenous children were interned, separated from their families and forced to leave their languages, traditions and culture.

On Monday afternoon, the Pope will go to the Church of the Sacred Heart, where he will hold a meeting with indigenous populations and members of the parish community. He will bless an image dedicated to Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first indigenous woman in North America to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church.

This will be a trip that will put the pope’s mobility problems to the test, although, during the flight, the pontiff walked the narrow aisles of the plane to greet journalists with the help of a cane. “Better than yesterday, but worse than tomorrow,” Francis joked about his knee pain.

During the flight, Francis assured journalists that he was traveling in the “spirit” of making a “penitential trip” to apologize to indigenous populations. When asked if he didn’t get too tired of walking around the plane and if it wouldn’t have been better if he’d been seated during the greetings, the Argentine pontiff replied that he could do it little by little.

Journalists also asked him about a possible trip to the Ukraine and Francisco assured that he would like to make this trip, but admitted “that the organization is complicated”. The Vatican’s Undersecretary of State for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, assured in a recent interview that Francis could go to Kiev as early as August, although, according to the pope’s responses, that circumstance seems remote.

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