Pope Francis, who uses a wheelchair due to knee problems, will continue plans to travel to Canada this summer to apologize in person for abuses suffered by indigenous peoples at the hands of the Catholic Church, the Vatican on Friday .
The Holy See has clarified that the pope will travel to Canada on July 24 and will visit Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit, a small town in the far north of the country. More than half of Iqaluit’s population belongs to the Inuit ethnic group. Francis will leave Canada on July 29 and arrive in Rome the next day.
Last month, Francis issued a historic apology for Canada’s abuse of Catholic boarding schools. He expressed “pain and shame” at the lack of respect for indigenous peoples’ identities, culture and spiritual values.
He then said he wanted to travel to Canada to personally express his apologies to the victims of failed Catholic missionary zeal.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis “accepts the invitation of civil and ecclesial authorities and indigenous communities” to embark on what the Holy See has called an “apostolic journey.”
The Vatican says details of the trip will be released in the coming weeks. Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said the pope will visit the site of at least one of the old schools.
Francis received invitations to visit communities across the country, but for logistical reasons he could only visit a small number, Smith added.
“What’s really driving all of this is the pope’s limited ability to move around,” Smith explained. “The Vatican chose these three sites for a variety of reasons, to see how we can have a significant impact within a very, very limited margin.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that the pope came “to formally express the apologies of the Catholic Church for its role in the operation of boarding schools that have caused lasting pain and suffering to the Indigenous peoples of this country.”
Associated Press writer Tracey Lindeman in Gatineau, Que., contributed to this report