Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Papal tour of Canada begins to take shape

By 
  • April 20, 2022

The scope and shape of a summertime papal pilgrimage to Canada is beginning to take shape, though no official itinerary has been put forward.

Vatican advance teams scouting possible locations have been reported in Québec City, Iqaluit and Edmonton. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is keeping mum about possible locations and timing as they work with the three national Indigenous organizations — the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Assembly of First Nations and Metis National Council — and the Holy See on details.

“The Canadian bishops are grateful that Pope Francis has accepted our invitation to visit Canada on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation,” CCCB communications lead Neil MacCarthy told The Catholic Register in an email. “The focus, themes and programming of the visit, if and when it is confirmed, will also be shaped in close consultation with Indigenous partners.”

Any official announcement of the Pope’s travel plans will have to come from the Holy See.

Given the penitential and healing focus of this papal pilgrimage, it will be very different from the 1984, 1987 and 2002 visits by St. Pope John Paul II. As a relatively young pope (64 at the time), John Paul II barnstormed across Canada in 1984, then made a return visit to Dene territory in 1987 to fulfil a promise to Indigenous Canadians. In 2002, as a grandfatherly 82-year-old, he returned to preside over World Youth Day in Toronto.

“Given the Holy Father’s advanced age (85) and desire for simple, modest visits, we can expect the Canadian visit to reflect this reality in both the length of the pilgrimage as well as the geography of such a visit, given the size of Canada,” MacCarthy said.

Unconfirmed reports put the working itinerary at four days.

Pope Francis himself hinted at one element of the Canadian journey when he apologized in Rome April 1 for the abuses of Catholic-run residential schools. Mentioning the widespread Indigenous devotion to St. Ann, grandmother of Jesus, and the annual pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne in northern Alberta around St. Ann’s July 26 feast day, Pope Francis added, “This year, I would like to be with you in those days.”

Pope Francis received three Indigenous delegations from Inuit, First Nations and Metis Canadians respectively in Rome March 28 to April 1. Given Lac Ste. Anne’s importance to both Metis and First Nations people, Pope Francis at the “Spirit Lake” could constitute a return visit to both of those communities.

As the capital of the independent Inuit government of Nunavut, Iqaluit is a natural answer to the Inuit delegation’s visit to Rome.

The case for a papal visit to Québec City rests on its history as the mother Church of Catholic Christianity in North America, said Frederic Barriault, historian and researcher at the Jesuit-run Centre for Justice and Faith in Montreal.

“The choice of Québec City makes sense from an historical standpoint,” Barriault told The Catholic Register. “It’s actually the birthplace of the Canadian Church and where the French and the First Nations first met.”

Though few residential schools operated inside Quebec, Quebec Catholics played an essential role in the residential school system, Barriault said.

“Without Quebec-born or Quebec-based missionaries, the residential schools wouldn’t have had the staff — priests, nuns, lay teachers — to deploy the cultural genocide that took place there.” 

Planning for the papal tour also involves Ottawa officialdom, said MacCarthy.

“The CCCB has also engaged the Government of Canada, knowing the national importance of such an event,” he said.

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