Pope Francis will tour Canada this summer, visiting Edmonton, Quebec City, and Iqaluit at the end of July, in a move intended to address the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.
The Vatican confirmed the visit in a statement on May 13, saying further details on the journey would be published in the coming weeks.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement the visit was an “important and necessary” step toward reconciliation.
Trudeau then reiterated his government’s commitment to implementing the calls to action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“We will continue to support First Nations, Inuit, and Métis by investing in their efforts to identify and recover those who never came home,” he said.
The trip, which will take place between July 24 and July 30, will be organized by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), with Archbishop Richard Smith appointed as the General Coordinator for the visit.
The CCCB said in a release that the locations and duration of the trip were decided out of consideration for the Pope’s health and accompanying mobility issues and that the chosen locations have significant indigenous populations and history relevant to the focus of his visit.
A source of controversy in Canada, residential schools were a government-sponsored program established with help from the Catholic Church in an effort to assimilate the indigenous population into Canadian society and culture. There were 130 residential schools operated in Canada between 1930 and 1996 with an estimated 150,000 children attending.
Testimonies from former students and at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have alleged instances of physical and sexual abuse and unhealthy living conditions which may have led to the deaths of 3,200 students, according to the TRC.
In April, indigenous delegates from Canada travelled to the Vatican to meet with the Pope and discuss what had occurred at the schools. At this meeting, the Pope issued an official apology for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.
He said that the program greatly harmed the culture and identity of indigenous peoples and its legacy has caused lasting damage to the community.