Representatives from Alberta Indigenous communities are hoping to continue reconciliation efforts by sharing their stories with Pope Francis later this month.
A group of around 30 First Nations, Metis and Inuit delegates from across Canada will have private meetings with the Pope starting Dec. 17.
It’s expected they will tell personal stories about the legacy of residential schools.
“I can only pray that we will touch the heart of him somehow. I think we have to a large degree now,” Gary Gagnon, an Alberta Metis delegate, said.
There have been more calls for an apology since the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites.
Like other delegates, Gagnon is hoping for an apology from the religious organization that ran many of those schools.
“To hear those words: ‘We’re sorry.’ And just to move on. We know it’s hard,” Gagnon said.
Wilton Littlechild of Ermineskin Cree Nation, as well as Metis Elder and Grande Prairie resident Angie Crerar are among the delegates from Alberta.
A group of bishops including Calgary’s William McGrattan and Archbishop Richard Smith from Edmonton will also be attending.
“The holy father wants this to happen and he wants to hear your stories,” Smith said. “It seems to me he’s going to hear the story of pain and of heartache but he’s also going to here the story of resilience and strength.”
The archbishop said he is expecting emotional and open dialogue at the meeting.
“The delegates speaking from their heart to the Pope and we all know well the compassionate heart of our Holy Father. It is with that heart that he will listen and it is from that heart that he will respond,” he said.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops will cover travel costs.
McGrattan hopes Pope Francis will stand in solidarity with Canadian bishops who issued an apology earlier this year over the Catholic church’s role in the residential school system.
“I believe that is why we are inviting the delegates to be present: so that he hears the impact and the pain he understands. So that he understands that this is truly significant for the church, for Canada and especially for the survivors,” the Calgary bishop said.
“All of those who are part of the delegation have the opportunity to meet Pope Francis and to tell him of the suffering and the pain but also the joy and the hope that reconciliation can become a new reality here in Canada,” McGrattan said.
Pope Francis has agreed to visit Canada to help reconciliation efforts.
Delegates headed to Vatican will be able to talk to the Pope about their expectations for that visit.
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