Bishops aim for spring meeting of Indigenous delegation with Pope Francis

Pope Francis is pictured with officers of the Canadian bishops’ conference during a meeting at the Vatican Dec. 9, including CCCB vice president Bishop William Terrence McGrattan, second from left, and president Bishop Raymond Poisson, third from left. (Vatican Media photo - CCN)

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Rescheduling the Indigenous delegations’ visits with Pope Francis in Rome in the midst of the Omicron-fuelled global COVID resurgence is not going to be easy, but the parties are committed to moving forward.

“A number of the elements are fluid, which adds to some of the logistical challenges,” said Neil MacCarthy, who is taking care of communications for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on the trip.

The Métis National Council is anxious to get the trip back on the rails, said MNC president Cassidy Caron, but the Omicron threat is a major concern for elderly residential school survivors and their families.

“The health and safety of our delegates, their families and the communities we will be returning to is our number one priority,” Caron said. “As soon as it is safe to do so, we look forward to bringing our stories of the Métis nation over to the Vatican to share with Pope Francis.”

A delegation of bishops returned to Canada from Rome on Dec. 18. While in Rome, CCCB president Bishop Raymond Poisson told Vatican News, “We don’t want to leave Rome without a date. We are in discussions about that. It’s in the spring — next spring,” Poisson said in an online audio interview. “We will do this visit in the spring and that will also be the gate open for the visit of the Pope in Canada.”

A final timeframe is still being worked out.

“Delegation dates are provided by the Vatican. Given the unique circumstances (multiple meetings with the Holy Father in close proximity as well as a final audience with all), there are limited windows available for such a meeting,” MacCarthy explained in an e-mail.

The CCCB has yet to propose the new dates to the three Indigenous political organizations represented on the trip, which had originally been scheduled for Dec. 17 through 20. The Assembly of First Nations first announced on Dec. 7 it would not send its delegates, prompting emergency online meetings among the AFN, MNC and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami with CCCB delegates already in Rome.

Poisson predicted that in Canada, Pope Francis is very likely to echo the apology offered by Canada’s bishops at the end of the CCCB’s September plenary meetings.

“The Pope can be a brother bishop with the other bishops of Canada, uniting together on the same apology and recognition of what’s happened,” Poisson said.

The next step will be discussions about the dates with the three Indigenous organizations, said MacCarthy.

“Rest assured, it is the desire of all partners involved in the delegation to continue with the meetings at the Vatican as soon as possible in 2022,” he said.

In addition to the 27 official Indigenous delegates and half-dozen bishops going to Rome, an unofficial delegation of about 150 Indigenous Catholics and others are expected to make the trip, Poisson said.