Pope in Canada Day One: on the land of the Indigenous Peoples
By Christopher Wells, Edmonton
Instead of the usual meetings with civil authorities and members of the diplomatic corps, the Pope’s first stop on this Apostolic Journey will be an encounter with survivors of the notorious residential school system, which for more than a century aimed at assimilating indigenous school children into the prevailing eurocentric culture.
Ermineskin Indian Residential School
The Ermineskin Indian Residential School that Pope Francis is visiting on Monday was one of the largest in Canada and was operated by Catholic missionaries from its foundation in 1895 until the federal government assumed responsibility for the facility in 1969. The school was closed six years later.
During his visit to the grounds of the school, the Pope is expected to stop first at the cemetery, where he will pray in silence before meeting with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit survivors of residential schools from around the country.
It promises to be a very emotional encounter for survivors, who continue to live with the trama of abuse suffered in the schools, which saw indigneous children physically abused for speaking their own mother tongues and for practicing their traditional ceremonies. Many indigenous people also lost loved ones in the schools.
It’s also one of the most highly anticipated events on the Pope’s itinerary, with many people hoping that Pope Francis will take the opportunity to apologize on Canadian soil for the Church’s role in the residential school system, after having previously sought forgiveness during an encounter with indigenous people in Rome earlier this year.
Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples
Later on Monday, the Pope will be returning to Edmonton, where he will visit Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, one of the oldest Churches in the city. The parish of Sacred Heart is composed largely of indigenous people and immigrants, and supports numerous pastoral ministries for those communities.
The interior of the Church reflects indigenous culture, with many of the artworks, as well as the altar, ambo, and presider’s chair designed by indigenous artists. The church was recently rededicated after more than two years of renovation following a fire that severely damaged the structure.
At the parish, the Pope will have the opportunity to speak with parishioners, and will bless a statue of St Kateri Tekakwitha, the first indigenous person from North America to be recognized by the Church as a saint.