Pope visits Canada to meet Indigenous survivors of abuse in Catholic schools

Pope Francis said on Sunday that his visit to Canada, where he would visit victims of abuse in residential schools run by the Catholic Church, was “an austere pilgrimage”.

“Next Sunday, God willing, I’ll be off to Canada,” he said at the end of the Angelus prayer, in clear reference to a knee problem that caused him to postpone his trip to Africa last month.

The pontiff is expected to use his July 24-30 visit to Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit to reiterate the apology given to Canadian delegations who visited the Vatican in April. Francis told the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square on Sunday that he “expressed his grief and solidarity for the loss”.

“And now I am going on a penance pilgrimage, which I hope, by the grace of God, will contribute to the journey of healing and reconciliation that has already begun,” he said. The visit to Canada is a significant step in efforts to address the global scandal of clerical sexual abuse and decades of cover-ups of children over the age of 85.

About 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were enrolled in 139 residential schools across Canada from the late 1800s to the 1990s as part of a government policy of forced assimilation. They spent months or years isolated from their families, language and culture, and many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers. Thousands are believed to have died from disease, malnutrition or neglect. More than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered in schools since May 2021.

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