Pope Francis celebrates a mass at a stadium in Edmonton, western Canada, on Tuesday, a day after he apologized for the “harm” caused to the country’s indigenous people.
Mass is due to begin at 9:15 a.m. (12:15 GMT) at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, where the pontiff will deliver his homily in Spanish.
In his maiden speech on Monday, Francis, 85, apologized for decades of abuse at residential schools for Indigenous children run by the Catholic Church in Canada.
“I ask forgiveness for the way many members of the Church and religious communities have cooperated, even with indifference, in these projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation,” he said.
This Tuesday, continuing a journey that he himself described as a “penitential pilgrimage”, he will welcome parishioners aboard his popemobile, despite the pain in his knee which forces him to use a cane or a wheelchair and to limit his movements.
According to the organizers, 63,000 people are expected at mass, under an important security device.
The spiritual leader of nearly 1.3 billion Catholics around the world will then travel to Lake St. Anne, located about 80 kilometers west of Edmonton, one of the main places of pilgrimage in North America.
Every year, since the end of the 19th century, thousands of pilgrims have come to bathe and pray in the waters of this lake which, according to the natives, has healing properties.
July 26 is the feast of Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus in the Catholic tradition, an important figure for many Canadian Aboriginal communities.
On Wednesday, he will visit Quebec before the last leg of the trip, Friday, in Iqaluit (Nunavut), a city in northern Canada, in the Arctic archipelago.
The pope apologized Monday to a crowd of Indigenous, Métis and Inuit people in Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, the town that was home to the Ermineskin residential school from 1895 to 1975.
The emotion was palpable among those present, many of them in traditional dress, as well as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, the country’s first Indigenous Governor General.
Shortly before, the volunteers were distributing small paper bags to “catch the tears”. Many looked down, wiped away tears, or leaned down and hugged those next to them.
The native chiefs presented and placed a traditional feather headdress on the pope.
From the late 19th century to the 1990s, the Canadian government sent approximately 150,000 children to 139 church-run residential schools, where they were separated from their families, language, and culture.
Many suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of principals and teachers, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.
By May 2021, more than 1,300 unmarked graves had been discovered at the sites of the former schools.
A delegation of indigenous people visited the Vatican in April and met with the pope, who formally apologized for the past.
But asking for forgiveness on Canadian soil has enormous significance, with Pope Francis celebrating his High Mass in Canada alongside survivors and their families, for whom the land of their ancestors holds special significance.
© Agence France-Presse
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