Visit of Indigenous leaders with Pope Francis will take place Dec. 17-20 – CCCB

Pope Francis (File Photo by Daniel Ibanez - CNA)

By staff of The B.C. Catholic

[Ottawa – Canadian Catholic News] – A delegation of Indigenous people will meet with Pope Francis just before Christmas, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) announced June 27.

The pastoral visit, scheduled for Dec. 17-20, 2021, will include “the participation of a diverse group of Elders/Knowledge Keepers, residential school survivors, and youth from across the country,” the CCCB said in a statement and will take place “in compliance with global travel restrictions.”

The statement came after a June 10 announcement that a delegation of Indigenous people would meet with the Holy Father to foster meaningful encounters of dialogue and healing.

The bishops’ statement said “Pope Francis is deeply committed to hearing directly from Indigenous Peoples, expressing his heartfelt closeness, addressing the impact of colonization and the role of the Church in the residential school system, in the hopes of responding to the suffering of Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma.”

The bishops said they “are deeply appreciative of the Holy Father’s spirit of openness in generously extending an invitation for personal encounters with each of the three distinct groups of delegates – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – as well as a final audience with all delegates together on 20 December 2021.”

A small group of bishops and Indigenous leaders will accompany the delegation, said the bishops.

“The Bishops of Canada reaffirm their sincere hope that these forthcoming encounters will lead to a shared future of peace and harmony between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church in Canada,” said the bishops, adding that planning for the visit is ongoing and further details will be announced when they are available.

In their June 10 announcement the bishops said they had been working for more than two years on a pastoral visit with residential school survivors. The visit was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the bishops pledged to “moving forward with the delegation prior to the end of 2021, in compliance with international travel guidelines.”

That announcement came two weeks after the discovery of remains at a burial site at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which the statement said serves as a reminder “of a tragic legacy still felt today.”

The bishops said they had “genuinely heard the sincere invitation to engage wholeheartedly with the past and are deeply committed to take truly meaningful active steps together with Indigenous Peoples in view of a future filled with greater respect and cooperation.”

The delegation to the Holy See “represents an important step on the journey of reconciliation and shared healing for Indigenous Peoples and the Church in Canada,” said the bishops.

Preparations for the pastoral visit have included talks with Indigenous people and communities at local and national levels, and bilaterally with the First Nations, Métis and Inuit national organizations, said the bishops.

“With the strong encouragement of Pope Francis, the Bishops of Canada have pledged true and deep commitment to renewing and strengthening relationships with Indigenous Peoples across the land. In recent years, regional and diocesan listening circles have taken place across the country in order to hear the stories from local Indigenous communities and their hopes for the future. Mutual listening is the beginning of our common efforts to bring about shared and long-lasting reconciliation, authentic healing and bridge building.”

The bishops noted that Pope Francis in his June 6 Angelus message “spoke about the shocking discovery of children’s remains at the former Kamloops residential school and, while conveying sorrow and solidarity, emphasized the importance of “walking side by side in dialogue and in mutual respect in the recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the sons and daughters of Canada.”

“It is our hope that these forthcoming encounters – and the important collaboration and partnership that has supported the planning – will lead to a shared future of peace and harmony between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church in Canada.”