Arrangements underway for residential school survivors to attend Pope’s first stop in Edmonton

The papal visit to Edmonton next month will be a historical moment for residential school survivors, their families, and communities. There are expectations that Pope Francis will apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system and the atrocities committed.

Arrangements are being made across the country for residential school survivors to attend his first stop in Edmonton. On July 24, Pope Francis will arrive in Edmonton where a brief airport ceremony will take place after 11:00 a.m. The following morning, the Pope will meet with Indigenous peoples, First Nations, Metis and Inuit at a former residential school in Maskwacis, an hour south of Edmonton.

Barry Kennedy, a survivor of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, was hoping to attend the listen to the Pope during his visit, but said there are barriers that face many survivors who wish to go, including himself.

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“With the price of gas … meals and everything has gone up,” said Kennedy. “(But) I want to see what this gentleman has to say.”

For Saskatchewan residential school survivors, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said despite a little bit of frustration that Pope Francis will not be visiting Saskatchewan, they are working on arrangements to get survivors within the province to Edmonton for the visit.

“We’re busy coordinating, blocking off hotel rooms,” said the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice-Chief Heather Bear. “There’s a few unanswered questions, from the ISC (Indigenous Services Canada) in terms of some of the details, but we’re working those out.

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“But in the meantime, we’re looking to assist in accommodating as many survivors (who) wish to attend and see the Pope.”

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Although there hasn’t been an official announcement from the ISC in regards to providing funding to residential school survivors to attend the papal visit, Bear said the commitment is there.

“It’s about survivors being validated,” she said. “1.2 billion Catholics throughout the world are going to hear our story from (the Pope). I think that’s important for our survivors to witness. On the other hand, there’s some (who) desire to stay away and stay home. Let’s be respectful to those who will go through that journey with the Pope … be respectful and mindful that everyone heals and everyone thinks differently.”

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Archbishop Don Bolen will be making arrangements for survivors who attended the Marieval Indian Residential School, Lebret Indian Residential School, Muskowequan Indian Residential School and St. Philips (Fort Pelly) Indian Residential School by providing transportation, meals and accommodations to attend the papal visit.

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“We’re wanting to accompany, support and allow as many survivors and intergenerational survivors as possible to make a meaningful connection with this event,” said Archbishop Bolen. “We’re still trying to collect names and are still building a list of people who would like to go.”

Survivors of the four schools in Treaty 4 who wish to attend in person are asked to register as there will be a certain amount of seats available. However, for those who wish not to attend, the Archdiocese of Regina will support Indigenous communities if they wish to host their own viewing event.

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On April 1, 2022, history was made after Pope Francis apologized during an Indigenous delegation visit to Rome. But many survivors wanted to hear the apology on Canadian soil.

“Residential school survivors from across the country will be present to hear the Holy Father speak to them and the entire country,” said Laryssa Waler, papal visit planning team member.

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On June 23rd, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) announced the days and locations of where Pope Francis will be visiting to focus on Indigenous healing and reconciliation.

“Due to his advanced age and limitations, it is expected that participation by Pope Francis at public events will be limited to approximately one hour,” stated CCCB in an earlier release.

Other dioceses in Saskatchewan are in the early stages of making arrangements for residential school survivors in their regions. Global Regina will bring you further information as it becomes available on the papal visit.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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