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RoseAnne Archibald, shown in this 2018 file photo, has been elected the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada. She spent the last three years leading the Chiefs of Ontario. CNS photo/Laura Barrios, Anishinabek Nation

Assembly of First Nations leader will not meet Pope Francis at Vatican

  • August 31, 2021

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations will not meet with the Pope when a meeting scheduled for December between Pope Francis and Canadian Indigenous leaders will be held, and it’s still not certain if any AFN leaders will attend.

“The AFN executive committee will make a decision very soon on whether the AFN will attend that meeting. I will not be there,” said AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said Aug. 31 of the meeting with the Pope that her predecessor Chief Perry Bellegarde and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) touted as a key step on the road towards reconciliation between Indigenous Canadians and the Catholic Church.

Archibald, who was elected to her post in July, said the AFN is still deciding how best to formally ask the Pope to make an apology on Canadian soil for the Church’s role in residential schools, one of the key recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“I know we need to press the Pope to come to Canada. The process of inviting him, I would say we are working on,” said Archibald. “We have been very public. We want the Pope here in Canada.”

Archibald made her comments during an online press conference in which the AFN released “The Healing Path Forward: 2021 Federal Election Priorities For First Nations and Canada,” which put reconciliation and healing as a top priority for the AFN.

On June 29, the CCCB announced that a meeting would be held Dec. 17-20 between representatives of Canada’s First Peoples — First Nations, Métis and Inuit — and the Pope in the Vatican. The next day Bellegarde confirmed that a delegation of Indigenous leaders would attend that meeting.

“There are no guarantees of any apology or that he will even come back to Canada but we have to make the attempt and we have to seize the opportunity,” said Bellegarde at the time. “I believe the spirit will move and things will happen in a good way. That is my hope and that is my prayer.”

Calls for a formal apology to be made by the Pope in Canada have been made before, including by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but so far those requests have not been heeded.

Pope Benedict XVI did meet with Indigenous leaders at the Vatican in 2009 where he apologized to then AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine and other Indigenous leaders for abuses in residential schools.

Archibald said there are ongoing discussions between the AFN and the CCCB regarding inviting the Pope to Canada to make an apology, and it is her understanding that there is support among bishops for such a visit.

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