VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis will hold at least five meetings with indigenous people during a trip to Canada in July, to make good on his promise to apologise in the country for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in abusive boarding schools.
A program released on Thursday showed the Pope plans to proceed with the July 24-30 trip despite knee problems that forced him to cancel a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in the first week of July.
State-sanctioned schools, which sought to erase indigenous cultures and where many children suffered abuse, were at the center of discussions between the pope and indigenous peoples at the Vatican in March and April.
Francis, 85, apologized during those meetings, and the groups accepted his apology, but the Pope promised to apologize in Canada as well.
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The Pope will visit Edmonton, Mascoasis, and Luck St. Anne, Quebec and Iqaluit in the Arctic region of Canada. He is scheduled to deliver nine sermons and speeches and deliver two masses.
He will spend most of his first day in Quebec on July 27 in meetings with Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has also asked him to visit Canada to apologize for the boarding schools.
About 150,000 children were pulled from their homes. Many were mistreated, raped and malnourished in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called in 2015 a “cultural genocide”.
The stated aim of the schools, which operated between 1831 and 1996, was to accommodate Aboriginal children. It was administered by Christian denominations on behalf of the government, mostly by the Catholic Church.
Francis issued a historic apology on April 1 at the end of a week of meetings with the first group of Indigenous Canadians.
He said at the time: “For the unfortunate behavior of members of the Catholic Church, I ask God’s forgiveness and I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart that I am in great pain.”
On his last day in Canada, in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut Territory, he is scheduled to hold a special meeting with the boarding school survivors.
A recurring school scandal erupted again last year with the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops in western British Columbia. The school closed in 1978.
The discovery brought new demands for accountability. Hundreds of unmarked burial sites have since been found.
Pope Francis was elected nearly two decades after the last school closures.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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