While the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) are pleased Pope Francis is coming to Canada to engage in reconciliation efforts relating to the Church’s history with residential schools, they say they’re disappointed the trip won’t include a stop in Winnipeg.
On Friday the Vatican said the pontiff will visit Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut during his July 24 to July 29 trip.
The trip comes after the Pope’s historic apology on April 1 in Italy for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools in Canada.
A delegation from the MMF met privately with the Pope at the Vatican a few weeks after the apology, and had asked that the pontiff include a stop in Winnipeg to bless the gravesite of Manitoba Metis leader, Louis Riel.
“We thought that we made a strong case concerning (the fact) that Manitoba has the largest Indigenous population – especially with the historical roots with Louis Riel,” said Andrew Carrier, vice-president of the MMF’s Winnipeg region, and minister responsible for residential and day school survivors.
“We’re not surprised that he cannot make it, but we are disappointed.”
The Pope, 85, will use the provincial capital cities of Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit as bases for the visit, the Vatican said.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said the Vatican selected the three cities based on the length of the trip, the vast size of Canada and the health of the pontiff.
Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, general coordinator of the trip for the conference, said the Pope is limited in how much he can travel. He can no longer ride in helicopters and can’t be in a vehicle for more than an hour. He must also rest between events.
It is expected that the Pope, despite his limitations, will travel to a former residential school site while in Canada.
Carrier said the MMF is still holding out hope Francis can make time to stop in Winnipeg during the trip.
“In the little time that we spent with Pope Francis, we’ve learned that he loves to surprise people,” he said. “So we’re going to pray that he’s able to stop in Winnipeg to come to St. Boniface to Louis Riel’s gravesite and give a blessing.”
Louis Riel is viewed as the founder of Manitoba and is known for starting two rebellions in Canada and as a staunch defender of Métis rights.
Carrier says Riel was also a devout Catholic, who, as a young man, trained to be a priest in Montreal.
“For Pope Francis to come to Louis Riel’s gravesite, it would really touch our hearts,” he said.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada and more than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.
The Popes apology came after meetings with First Nations, Inuit and Metis groups at the Vatican. Pope Francis apologized for the deplorable conduct of church members involved in residential schools. He also said he would visit Canada.
Carrier says regardless of whether or not the Pope makes it to Winnipeg, the MMF will go to him while he’s on Canadian soil.
He said the MMF is also working to improve connections with the Catholic Church.
“The relationship that a lot of the Metis citizens have with the church, over the years, have been strained,” he said. “I think it’s time to move forward and rebuild and reconnect in our faith and with the Catholic Church.”
— with files from Global’s Aaron D’Andrea, Keesha Harewood and The Canadian Press
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