SAINTE-ANNE-DE-BEAUPRÉ, Que.—Pope Francis will travel to a pilgrimage site near Quebec City on Thursday to celebrate mass on the fifth day of his visit to Canada.
The service, which is being attended by Indigenous people, residential school survivors, politicians and dignitaries is intended to pray for reconciliation — the principal theme of this week’s papal tour.
The mass is taking place at a national basilica that is dedicated to Saint Anne, the grandmother of Jesus Christ. The building is a grand structure built in a neo-Romanesque style that dates to 1658, when French settlers prayed to Saint Anne during a stormy ocean crossing and committed to building a shrine in her honour upon their arrival in Quebec.
Each year, pilgrims gather to mark the feast day of Saint Anne on July 26. This year is no different in that respect, and there were dozens of trailers and camper vans set up in a park across from the basilica where people camped out ahead of Pope Francis’ arrival.
Francis was scheduled to make a tour of the basilica and greet those who have come to see him in his Popemobile before heading inside to lead the mass.
Later Thursday, Pope Francis is set to meet with Catholic clergy for evening prayers at the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec.
The more religious focus of the Pope’s Thursday agenda will differ sharply from his arrival Wednesday in Quebec City, where Francis faced criticism over the nature and depth of his apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system, where Indigenous children faced physical, psychological and sexual abuse, and where an estimated 4,000 died or never returned to their homes and families.
Speaking at Quebec City’s historic Citadelle, the Pope asked forgiveness for the harm done by the policies of assimilation carried out in residential schools.
“In that deplorable system, promoted by the governmental authorities of the time, which separated many children from their families, different local Catholic institutions had a part,” Francis said.
“For this reason, I express my deep shame and sorrow, and, together with the bishops of this country, I renew my request for forgiveness for the wrong done by so many Christians to the Indigenous Peoples.”
The Pope did not, however, commit to saying the words that critics have been calling for — that it was the Catholic Church as an institution that was responsible for the residential school abuses and that those included physical, psychological and sexual abuses.
The prime minister gave voice to the context in his own remarks.
“In residential schools, these children were alone, isolated and in pain and sorrow, far from their families and communities. Even worse, stripped of their language, their culture, their identity. Since 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation commission’s final report, the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis have been calling on the Pope to apologize to survivors, to their families and to their communities.
A spokesperson for the papal visit acknowledged some of the criticisms the Catholic Church has faced, particularly over the Pope’s refusal to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery, which is based on 15th-century papal edicts that gave the church’s blessing to European explorers “discovering” and exploiting land in Africa and the New World that was already inhabited by non-Christians.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned the doctrine in 2016, following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report into residential schools. But the Pope himself has not.
Papal visit spokesperson Laryssa Waler said that Canadian bishops “are working with the Vatican … with the goal of issuing a new statement from the church.”
Francis, midway through his tour, has made two apologies on Canadian soil during his visit.
On Monday, he begged forgiveness for the “evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous Peoples,” during a speech in Maskwacis, Alta.
He is to make a brief stop in Iqaluit on Friday before heading home to Vatican City.
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