Pope Francis fighting personal pain to heal Indigenous wounds

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

[Canadian Catholic News] – Pope Francis will visit a residential school and will very likely be seen on the shores of Lac Ste. Anne during the annual pilgrimage to Manitou Sakahigan – Cree for “Lake of the Spirit.”

But the real news is that Pope Francis is coming here at all, said Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith as he presented still-developing plans for a papal visit July 24-29 to Canadian reporters.

“I’m a little astonished that he’s coming here,” Smith confessed to reporters in Edmonton and watching on YouTube May 13. “We have seen his limitation increase. We have seen him progressively cancel events because of his inability to move around, because of the pain that he’s experienced.”

Smith marvelled that, at 85 and struggling with ligament damage to his knees, the Holy Father seems unstoppable.

“In early July he’s going to South Sudan and to the Congo, just a few weeks before coming here. I think that that is an ambitious itinerary for a young person in the best of health. This is extraordinarily ambitious for the Holy Father.”

If not for the pressing need for reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous people, it is very unlikely that Pope Francis would ever have chosen to come to Canada, Smith argued.

“I think it’s fair to say that, were it not for his desire to engage with Indigenous peoples on their land, he probably would not be coming to Canada,” said the archbishop, who will co-ordinate the papal visit. “He is a pope who prefers to travel to countries that have never seen a pope on their land. He’s a pope who prefers to travel to countries that are on the underdeveloped end, if I can put it that way, of the economic spectrum – that suffer from poverty and deprivation.”

Smith is in no doubt that in Canada, on Indigenous land, Pope Francis will again apologize for the suffering Catholic-run residential schools visited on Indigenous communities and individuals.

“We’ve heard the invitations, the constant invitations, for the pope to come and deliver these words of apology here, on their land. We fully expect that the pope will reiterate the apology he did give in Rome,” Smith said.

While the official itinerary is not expected until mid-June, Smith left little doubt that Pope Francis would visit a residential school.

“We will certainly want to have the pope visit a former residential school site,” he said.

Whether or not Francis can be present at one of the grave sites revealed by ground penetrating radar since the Kamloops discovery in May of last year, the pope intends to address in depth the legacy of the schools, according to Smith.

Indigenous people and Indigenous heritage will be front and centre throughout the visit.

“It is clearly a priority for all of us that whatever takes place, in whatever venue, will feature as a priority, as a first concern, Indigenous culture, Indigenous spirituality, Indigenous ways. The pope is here for the Indigenous peoples. He’s made that very clear. That is his first priority,” Smith said.

Caring for Pope Francis’ health is a priority for Canada’s bishops.

“The Vatican is very, very clear,” Smith said. “When he comes to a country, he can’t get around by helicopter, he can’t be in a car any more than an hour, he cannot be in a different place every night.”

Quebec City, Iqaluit and Edmonton have been chosen as hubs for a variety of events.

“Even though this will be limited in the geographical reach, in terms of the itinerary itself, we’re committed to making sure it will have a broad, national impact and be as meaningful as possible for everybody,” Smith said.

Related: Saskatchewan Catholic bishops welcome news of papal visit

Related: Pope Francis coming to Canada

Related: Archbishop Bolen and Chief Delorme call for new ways of  “Walking With Your Neighbour”

Related: Manitoba Métis praise Pope Francis for listening

Related: Indigenous leaders see “fresh tracks” in hunt for healing

Related: Pope apologizes for treatment of Indigenous People, promises to visit

Related: Text of Papal Apology

Related: Catholic TRC Healing Response (information and to donate)