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Memorial in front of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Canada, where remains of more than 200 children were discovered earlier this year Memorial in front of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Canada, where remains of more than 200 children were discovered earlier this year  (Dennis Owen)

Pope's meeting with Canadian indigenous peoples postponed

The indigenous delegation due to Visit the Vatican and meet with the Pope from 17-20 December is postponed due to Covid-19

By Vatican News staff writer

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced that due to the worsening Covid-19 crisis, a First Nations delegation set to visit the Vatican next week has postponed its trip.

The delegation of indigenous people was due to travel to the Vatican between 17-20 December to meet with Pope Francis and to discuss the tragedies that took place in the country's Church-run residential schools.

What happened?

The residential schools were government-sponsored schools, many of them run by Christian organizations, that were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. They operated from the 1880s into the closing decades of the 20th century and aimed to educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into mainstream Canadian society. The system forcibly separated children from their families for extended periods of time and forbade them to acknowledge their Indigenous heritage and culture or to speak their own languages. Former students tell of extensive and systemic abuse within the system.

 

Reason for rescheduling

In a statement published on their website, the bishops write that "after careful assessment of the uncertainty and potential health risks surrounding international travel amid the recent spread of the Omicron variant, the Canadian Bishops, Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami have jointly decided to reschedule a delegation to the Vatican in December 2021 to the earliest opportunity in 2022".

The bishops explain that the decision was "a heartbreaking one" but that it was made after "careful consultation with delegates, family members, community leaders, public health officials and the leadership of each of the three National Indigenous Organizations". They explained that special consideration was given to the situation of elderly delegates as well as those who live in remote communities, for whom " the risk of infection and the fluid nature of the evolving global situation presents too great a threat at this time".

The statement goes on to read that the bishops take "comfort in the desire, conveyed to us by the Holy See, that the safety of the delegation should inform any decision to move forward".

Postponed and not cancelled

They emphasized that the delegation's meeting with the Pope in Rome has been "postponed and not cancelled". 

As more information becomes available on the current Omicron variant, the bishops stress that they will continue to assess the feasibility of future travel plans, based on guidance from the Canadian government and relevant international authorities.

Concluding their statement, the bishops express that their "shared commitment to walking together towards healing and reconciliation remains strong". Finally, they say, "we understand that the Holy See is very much committed to rescheduling this visit in the new year and we look forward to the opportunity for Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors, and youth to participate in private meetings with Pope Francis".

08 December 2021, 14:18