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ROME – Delegations of Canadian bishops and indigenous communities will meet with Pope Francis at the end of March, after an initial December visit was cancelled due to the spread of the coronavirus Omicron variant.
According to a joint statement from the Canadian bishops’ conference and the indigenous communities who will participate, “the delegation to Rome to meet with Pope Francis, originally planned for December 2021, is now scheduled to take place at the end of March and early April of this year.”
“In light of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, both in Canada and throughout the world, a prudent decision was made in December to postpone the delegation out of concern for the safety of all delegates, recognizing the uncertainty regarding travel and the fluid nature of the situation,” they said.
Now that case numbers are beginning to improve, new dates were selected, and the visit of the delegations will take place the week of March 28, with a final collective audience being held April 1, the statement said.
Given the unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic and when new variants might spring up, they said they will monitor conditions in the weeks leading up to the new dates and will correspond with delegates, public health officials, and relevant government and international entities, “traveling only when we feel it is safe to do so.”
“We remain committed to walking toward healing and reconciliation and very much look forward to the opportunity for Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors, and youth to meet with Pope Francis,” they said.
Among the indigenous communities represented in the delegations are the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
The Rome delegations include Elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors, and youth.
Pope Francis is expected to hold private meetings with each of the communities represented throughout the week they are in Rome, with everyone gathering for the final audience at the close of the visit.
The visit of the delegations to Rome has been in the works for several years but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last summer the visit took on a new urgency after the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops at the end of May, prompting searches at other schools that unearthed hundreds more bodies.
Given the Catholic Church’s role in running the residential schools, the Church in Canada has faced enormous backlash and pressure for an apology.
While the Canadian bishops have issued a collective apology, as have individual orders who were in charge of the schools, Pope Francis has not, and there is speculation that he could make some form of an apology during the visit of the delegations.
Pope Francis has also expressed his willingness to visit Canada as part of the country’s healing and reconciliation process.
In an interview with Crux in December, Bishop Raymond Poisson of Saint-Jérôme and Mont-Laurier and president of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops, said the possibility of a papal visit to Canada and possible dates will be a topic of discussion during the visit of the delegations.
“We hope this visit will not be too far from the delegation, because we want to add to this whole process” of healing and reconciliation, he said.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the conclusion of its work in 2015 issued several action points for reconciliation with indigenous communities, one of which for the pope to make an apology on Canadian soil, leading some to speculate that if Pope Francis does visit Canada, his apology for the Catholic Church’s role in the atrocities committed against Canada’s indigenous could be made during his visit.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen