Pope Francis has agreed to visit Canada to assist with ongoing reconciliation efforts with indigenous groups, the Vatican said Wednesday.
The trip follows this spring’s disturbing revelations about indigenous children who died while attending residential schools.
The Catholic Church was essential in the founding and functioning of the schools.
The date of the papal visit has not yet been disclosed.
The Pope has not issued a formal apology for the role of the Church, despite repeated appeals from Canadians.
In a brief statement, the Vatican stated that the Canadian Bishops’ Conference has invited the pope to make an apostolic journey to Canada “also in the context of the long pastoral process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples”.
“His Holiness has expressed his willingness to visit the country on a date to be determined in due course”, reads the statement.
The pontiff had already invited an indigenous delegation from Canada to the Vatican. Three groups – First Nations, Metis and Inuit – will meet with him from 17 to 20 December.
In a statement on Wednesday, Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins said he hoped the meeting would allow the Pope to “hear directly those who have suffered.”
In Canada, support for reconciliation – repairing the relationship between indigenous peoples, non-indigenous people and the government – has recently been at an all-time high.
The support comes after a series of unmarked burial sites were discovered in western Canada during the spring and summer, most believed to belong to former residential school students.
More than 1,100 burial sites were found between May and July. Some of the remains were believed to belong to children as young as three.
First Nations Assembly chief RoseAnne Archibald tweeted that she would welcome the Pope to Canada “to present the long-awaited apology” and called for reparations.
“I keep demanding that the Catholic Church be responsible for its role in the forced assimilation and genocide of our children, our families and our nations. Someone must be criminally charged,” he said.
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, said the church should not only apologize for its role in the school system, but also offer compensation to survivors and release school records.
“Apologies are not enough,” he told CBC News.
The historic report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), released in 2015, detailed the extensive failures in the care and safety of these children and the complicity of the church and government.
“Government, church and school officials were well aware of these failures and their impact on student health,” the authors wrote. “If the question is, ‘who knew what when?’ the clear answer is: ‘Everyone in authority at any point in the history of the system.’ “
Among the 94 recommendations of the TRC are the Catholic Church’s formal apologies to survivors and their families.
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