By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
[Canadian Catholic News] – Pope Francis’ visit to Lebanon may be on hold, but he’s coming to Canada.
Pope Francis will visit Quebec City, Iqaluit and Edmonton between July 24 and 29, adding the weight of his office to Canadian Catholic efforts to reconcile with Indigenous Canadians and to repair the damage done by Catholic-run residential schools.
“Pope Francis will have the opportunity to visit Indigenous peoples here in their homeland, as he promised when he met them recently in Rome,” said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president Bishop Raymond Poisson. “We pray for the health of the Holy Father as we undertake the intensive planning for this historic visit.”
At 85 and suffering from sciatica and ligament damage to his knees, the Pope’s health will be a major concern as Vatican and Canadian officials craft an official itinerary for this papal journey.
“We have to recognize the sufficient health challenges and advanced age of the Holy Father in planning the visit to Canada,” senior communications lead for the papal visit Neil MacCarthy told The Catholic Register in an email. “We can expect that there will be plenty of time for rest in the schedule and that his participation at events will be limited to a short period of time.”
As he met with pilgrims from Slovakia April 30, Pope Francis revealed the dire state of his knees.
“There is a problem: This leg is not good, it does not work,” the Pope told pilgrims. “And the doctor has told me not to walk. I like to go … but this time I have to obey the doctor.”
The Pope has recently been seen wheeled into meetings in a wheelchair and on May 9 the Vatican warned that a papal visit that Lebanese President Michel Aoun had been promising would happen June 12 and 13 would likely be delayed. Unlike the visit to Canada, the Vatican had not yet officially confirmed the visit to Lebanon.
The three cities chosen for the visit — Edmonton with the largest urban Indigenous population in Canada, Iqaluit as the capital of self-governing Inuit territory of Nunavut, and Quebec the mother Church of Catholicism in North America — will serve as hubs for programming and visits that have not yet been announced. Today’s announcement only confirms the broad outlines of the visit, with details expected six to eight weeks before the Pope touches down.
As details become available — including opportunities for people to see Pope Francis and possibilities for volunteering during the papal visit — they will be made public on two new websites launched today. The site www.papalvisit.ca will have updates in Engish and www.visitepapale.ca will offer the same in French.
On the CCCB side, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith has been chosen general coordinator for the papal visit. It’s a continuation of Smith’s role organizing and leading the three Indigenous delegations which met with Pope Francis between March 28 and April 1.
On April 1 Pope Francis issued an historic personal apology for the Church’s role in operating about 60 per cent of the residential schools across Canada between 1880 and 1996 — schools designed to strip Indigenous children of their language and culture by separating them from their families, communities, language and traditions.
“I also feel shame. I have said this to you and now I say it again. I feel shame — sorrow and shame — for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” Pope Francis said.
This papal journey, promised at that time, is expected to deepen the Pope’s commitment to reconciliation on behalf of the entire Church.
“I look forward to working with Indigenous peoples from across this land, as well as local, provincial and federal partners as we prepare to welcome the Holy Father and continue to walk together on this important healing and reconciliation journey,” Smith said in a release.
This is the fourth papal visit to Canada and the first since St. Pope John Paul II came to Toronto for the 2002 World Youth Day.
Related: Text of Papal Apology