The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says Pope Francis has accepted an invitation to visit Canada “on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation” according to a release sent out Wednesday.
“In anticipation of this visit, the planned delegation of Indigenous survivors, Elders, knowledge keepers and youth will travel to the Holy See, where they will have the opportunity to speak to Pope Francis about the timing, focus, and themes in preparation for his future pilgrimage to Canada,” said the release.
The bishops said the delegation will visit Rome from December 17-20, 2021.
For years, First Nation, Inuit and Metis leaders, and some Canadian politicians have been encouraging the pope to come to Canada to apologize for the role the Catholic Church played in the residential school system.
The schools were less about education and more about cutting off Indigenous children from their culture and assimilating them into mainstream Canadian society. That assimilation included introducing children to religion.
Calls to action 58 from the 2015 final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which chronicled the abuses suffered by Indigenous children at federally funded church-run residential schools, calls for a papal apology to be delivered in Canada.
The Canadian bishops said in the release that while they’ve been “engaged in meaningful discussions with Indigenous Peoples, especially those affected by Residential Schools who have shared stories about the suffering and challenges that they continue to experience,” they hope that the pope’s visit will “be a significant milestone in the journey toward reconciliation and healing.”
According to the release from the Vatican, “His Holiness has indicated his willingness to visit the country on a date to be settled in due course.”
Calls for an apology have grown louder over the past year after the confirmation of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Criticism has also intensified as concerns have been raised that the Catholic Church didn’t properly compensate residential school survivors as agreed to under a landmark settlement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a private meeting with the pope in 2017. Before that, a delegation of Indigenous leaders met with pope Benedict in 2009.