Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a mass by Pope Francis in western Canada Tuesday, a day after his historic apology for the abuse of Indigenous children at Catholic-run schools.
The 85-year-old pontiff is expected to deliver a homily in Spanish at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, in what will be one of the largest open-air events of his visit to Canada.
Knee pain has seen the Pope use a cane or a wheelchair in recent months, including in Canada, and he will greet crowds from his popemobile.
In his first address Monday, to a gathering of Indigenous people in the community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, he offered a long-awaited apology to Canada’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit people for the “evil” done over decades of abuse in schools.
“I am sorry,” he said, adding: “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.”
He cited the “cultural destruction” and the “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” of children over nearly a century at the schools.
From the late 1800s to the 1990s, Canada’s government sent about 150,000 children into 139 residential schools run by the Church, where they were cut off from their families, language and culture.
Many were physically and sexually abused, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.
Organizers say more than 60,000 people are expected to attend the mass in Edmonton, which is being held under heavy security.
The spiritual leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics is then expected to continue what he has described as a “penitential” journey, travelling in the afternoon to Lac Ste Anne, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Edmonton, for a liturgical celebration at one of North America’s most important pilgrimage sites.
Every year since the end of the 19th century, thousands of pilgrims mainly from Canada and the United States have come to bathe and pray in the healing waters, according to Indigenous rites.
Tuesday also marks the feast of St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus in the Catholic tradition, a major figure for many Canadian Aboriginal communities.
– ‘Path together’ –
Monday’s apology had a powerful impact on many, leaving survivors feeling overwhelmed and leaders praising it as historic, even as some warned it was only a first step.
“I believe there’s a path together. There’s a lot of work to be done,” said George Arcand, grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations.
Since May 2021, more than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered at the sites of the former schools, sending shockwaves throughout Canada — which has slowly begun to acknowledge this long, dark chapter in its history.
More than 4,000 children have been identified as dying in the schools, but the true toll is estimated to be at least 6,000.
The abuse created trauma for generations.
Following a July 27-29 visit to Quebec City, Pope Francis will end his trip in Iqaluit, capital of the northern territory of Nunavut and home to the largest Inuit population in Canada, where he will meet again with former residential school students, before returning to Italy.
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