Pope Francis arrives in Quebec City for final days of Indigenous reconciliation visit

Brittany Hobson and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, July 27, 2022 5:25AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 27, 2022 4:07PM EDT

QUEBEC – A plane carrying Pope Francis landed Wednesday in Quebec’s capital city for the next leg of what the pontiff has described as a “penitential” Canadian journey focused on addressing the harms of Indigenous residential schools.

The Pope left Edmonton on Wednesday morning and arrived mid-afternoon in Quebec City, where he’s expected to meet Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Citadelle of Quebec, before giving a public address with Simon.

Francis, in a wheelchair, was greeted on the tarmac by residential school survivors, Indigenous leaders and other dignitaries, including Quebec Premier Francois Legault.

People were already setting up lawn chairs at 10 a.m. on the Plains of Abraham, where the pontiff is expected to greet members of the public from his popemobile later Wednesday. There was a heavy police presence on the grounds, where concerts and other artistic performances were taking place throughout the afternoon.

For residential school survivor Omer St-Onge, the Pope’s visit represents a “small step” in a journey of healing.

But St-Onge, who comes from the Innu community of Uashat-Maliotenam on Quebec’s north shore, said he is hoping for more than just an apology.

“It’s time for the Pope to decide to give us back artifacts, objects that were taken from us that are all at the Vatican and in churches, documents about young people who died,” said St-Onge, whose birth name is Uapan Ushekatok.

Fabien Jaubert, also from Uashat-Maliotenam, said he had come to honour the memories of residential school survivors, including his grandmother and aunts.

“I’m expecting an apology from the Pope,” he said in an interview on the Plains of Abraham ahead of the pontiff’s arrival. “I would like to hear him make one on behalf of the church, instead of just certain actors.”

Official events in Quebec have been slightly pushed back after a separate flight carrying organizers and Indigenous leaders invited to the Citadelle was delayed.

After visiting the Plains of Abraham, the Pope is to go to the residence of the archbishop of Quebec, where he plans to stay during his time in the province.

On Thursday, Francis is to hold a mass at the shrine of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre, east of the city, then attend vespers with church officials at the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec.

On Friday, he is to make a brief stop in Iqaluit before heading home to the Vatican.

The Alberta portion of the Pope’s journey included a visit to the Indigenous community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton.

Standing there before residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders, he apologized for abuses at the institutions, most of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis also led an outdoor public mass at Edmonton’s football stadium, which some criticized as too traditional.

He later joined a pilgrimage at Lac Ste. Anne, northwest of Edmonton – a place of spiritual significance for many Indigenous Catholics that is thought to have healing properties. Francis blessed the lake and sprinkled some of its water on people in the crowd.

The Pope’s Twitter account posted Tuesday, after the visit to the pilgrimage site, that “as a Church, all of us need to be healed from the temptation of choosing to defend the institution rather than seeking the truth.”

“With God’s help, let us contribute to the building up of a Mother Church that is pleasing to Him. #IndigenousPeoples #Canada.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2022.

– With files from Frederic Lacroix-Couture