Pope Francis has arrived in Canada to begin a five-day trip centered around his apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church for the abuse suffered by Indigenous children in mostly church-run boarding schools.
“This is a journey of penance. Let us suppose that this is its spirit,” the pope told reporters in his traditional remarks after taking off from Rome on Sunday.
He has arrived in Edmonton in western Alberta, where he will visit a former residential school and meet the indigenous people on Monday. He also visits Quebec City and Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut Province. He will be leaving on Friday.
On the papal plane, the Pope said he was eager to visit Ukraine in an effort to end the five-month-old war that he has repeatedly denounced.
“I have a great desire to go to Kyiv,” the Pope said when asked about a possible future trip to Ukraine.
In an exclusive interview earlier this month, the Pope told Reuters he hoped to be able to go to Moscow and Kiev soon after his trip to Canada.
The first full day of his Canadian tour will be devoted to Indigenous Peoples and Apologies, with mass taking place at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium on Tuesday.
Between 1881 and 1996, more than 150,000 Aboriginal children were separated from their families and brought to boarding schools. Many children were starved, beaten and sexually abused in a system that the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission called a “cultural genocide”.
While Canada’s leaders have known of large numbers of children dying in schools since 1907, the issue has been pushed to the fore with the discovery of suspected unmarked graves on or near former residential school sites last year.
Responding to pressure from those discoveries, the Pope apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in schools earlier this year during a visit by Indigenous delegates to the Vatican.
Now he comes to apologize on Canadian soil. But survivors and indigenous leaders told Reuters they wanted more.
Many called for monetary compensation, the return of original artifacts, the release of school records, support for the extradition of those accused of abuse, and the abolition of a 15th-century doctrine justifying colonial expropriation of indigenous people in the form of a papal bull, or edict.