Pope Francis’ imminent Apostolic Visit to Canada will be first of all a penitential pilgrimage geared at healing and reconciliation with the nation’s indigenous peoples, suggests the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, noting this follows the Pontiff’s five encounters with the aboriginal peoples in Rome in April.
During a briefing at the Press Office on Wednesday, the Director presented the Pope’s 37th Apostolic Visit abroad. The North American nation will be the 56th country he's visited. Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, St. John Paul II who visited Canada three times during his pontificate, most recently in 2002.
Bruni recalled how Pope Francis will also visit the National Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec, where, like his predecessor, he will celebrate Mass.
At the Shrine, Pope Francis, again like John Paul II, will remember the first canonized Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, and bless a statue of her.
The Director of the Holy See Press Office noted that St. Anne is important for the indigenous especially “out of respect for the elderly and the idea of the nonna (‘grandmother’).” St Anne and her husband St Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus, are patron saints of grandparents and the elderly.
The Pope’s Journey comes in response to invitations he received from the Church and the civil authorities in Canada, and from Canada’s indigenous peoples themselves.
During the 24-30 July Visit, the Pope will make stops in Edmonton, Quebec, and the northern city of Iqaluit.
In Iqaluit, Bruni warned, “it will be cold, very cold,” noting that there are only countries like Iceland and Norway that have population centres further north. He joked that for those suffering the intense heat during the scorching European heatwave, it could be refreshing.
The protocol of the Trip will be slightly different from others because the Holy Father will meet with authorities only once in Quebec, the second step of his travel, on Wednesday. Moreover, this time there will be representatives of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit indigenous peoples at the encounter, which generally is reserved solely for civil authorities and diplomats.
The first leg of the Pilgrimage will be dedicated primarily to meeting with indigenous peoples in Edmonton. The Pope will meet with several more groups of indigenous people in Quebec.
A particularly significant moment of the trip will take place in the Arctic city of Iqaluit, when Pope Francis will meet some former students of the infamous "residential schools" where indigenous children were often subjected to harsh discipline and sometimes mistreated and abused. It is now recognized that the residential school system sought to erase their culture.
Under that system, indigenous children were separated from their families, sometimes against their will, and forced to attend boarding schools away from their homes. Mortality rates were high in the institutions, which were established and funded by the Canadian government, but whose management was entrusted to Christian communities, including Catholic dioceses and religious orders.
The Vatican spokesman recalled Pope Francis' meeting in Rome with representatives of Canada's First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities this spring, when the Holy Father expressed "indignation and shame" for what their peoples experienced.
On the Journey, the Pope will be joined by his usual papal entourage, which will include the Roman Curia’s two Canadian cardinals, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet; and the Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Michael Czerny.
At his events and Masses in Canada, the Pope is expected to deliver his nine discourses in Spanish. There will be jumbotrons in Edmonton and Quebec, which are expected to offer English and French simultaneous translations, respectively.
The choice of Spanish, he suggested, is because Spanish is more widely understood than Italian, and to take into account the experience of local translators. He also did not exclude that the choice of Spanish was made in view of reaching a wider audience, as there are many Spanish speakers in some parts of Canada.
The Holy Father is expected to greet journalists on the outgoing flight to Canada and to hold his usual press conference on the return flight to Rome. More than sixty journalists are expected to accompany the Pope aboard the papal flight.
Bruni noted that the best way to manage these events is still being studied, cautioning the journalists present not to expect the Holy Father to be standing the entire time or for the conference to be particularly long.
Responding to questions about the Pope’s mobility challenges due to his knee pain, the Vatican spokesman noted that he may occasionally use the wheelchair during the trip, as he does in Rome.
Although the Holy Father normally departs from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and returns to the capital’s Ciampino Airport, this time Pope Francis will return instead to Fiumicino international airport.