Pope Francis greets residential school survivors, Indigenous leaders and elders, civic leaders, and church officials after landing at Edmonton International Airport, July 24, 2022. Photo by Michael Swan

Pope Francis' penitential visit to Canada begins in Edmonton

  • July 24, 2022
Michael Swan

Michael Swan
The Catholic Register

The Catholic Register was on scene with Pope Francis during his 'penitential pilgrimage' across Canada. See Michael's full reporting of the pope's historical visit.

Pope Francis has landed in Canada and begun the work of his penitential pilgrimage from the moment he was wheeled off the papal plane and into a hangar at Edmonton International Airport.

The hangar was the venue for a simple and brief ceremony of welcome that featured a parade of brief encounters with residential school survivors, Indigenous leaders and elders, civic leaders, bishops and cardinals. After a drum circle performance by six members of the Logan Alexis Singers who make their home on Treaty Six territory, Pope Francis began receiving a long line of more than two dozen dignataries, bringing greetings and welcoming the Pope to Canada.

But it was Indigenous people and most certainly three residential school survivors whom Pope Francis spent the most time with, holding their hands, speaking with them, and in one case kissing the hand of residential school survivor and Frog Lake First Nation elder Alma Desjarlais. 

The Pope appeared to engage Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed in an animated conversation before handing him the customary papal rosary. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Gerald Antoine leaned in to speak with and listen to Pope Francis.

When it came to politicians from Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney to Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or even the Canadian bishops and cardinals, greetings were swift and cordial.

For Catholics who have longed for papal action on truth and reconciliation, there’s hope in Pope Francis’ determination to be here, despite his ailing knees and sciatica.

With the Pope here to do his part, Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation founder Jody Garneau is hoping Canadian Catholics are ready to step up and follow through on Pope Francis’ embrace of penitence and repentance.

“It’s not just about a celebrity visiting. It’s about why he’s here,” Garneau said. 

Beginning with the Kamloops discovery of more than 200 possible graves next to the old Kamloops Indian Residential School in May, 2021, Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation raised more than $30,000 and engaged many Catholics in conversation on Facebook about the deeper issues behind the residential school legacy — all without any participation from clergy or the hierarchy.

“I’m so glad he (Pope Francis) is here. I’m waiting to see what happens,” Garneau said.

Tomorrow morning, Pope Francis will travel south from Edmonton to Maskwacis to visit the site of a residential school graveyard and speak there. It’s here that Pope Francis is expected to deliver the long-awaited apology on Canadian soil for past Church wrongs towards Indigenous people. In the afternoon he will visit with members of the Sacred Heart National Indigenous People’s Parish in downtown Edmonton.

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