Residential school survivors express hope, skepticism as Pope accepts invitation to Canada

Pope Francis has accepted an invitation to visit Canada on a pilgrimage of reconciliation, and one Saskatchewan residential school survivor said he hopes to see a financial commitment to healing for those impacted.

A release from the Holy See Press Office states “His Holiness has indicated his willingness to visit the country on a date to be settled in due course”.

Roland Desjarlais, a residential school survivor, thinks the visit is great news for the journey toward reconciliation. He hopes to hear an apology that comes with a financial commitment to preserve history and introduce healing programs.

“We require money to fix up [the residential schools] and see them sustained as museums and as some places of healing centres that could respond to the traumatizing effect that is going on right now for generations in all our communities,” he said.

Brenda Dubois is also a residential school survivor and feels skeptical of the intention of the Pope’s trip.

“Is it really sincere, or is it an opportunity to say we did it?” Dubois wondered. “You’re going to come here and apologize for what? Will they actually state what they are sorry for? We know in stating ‘I’m sorry’ there is an expectation of trying to do different. I still don’t feel any difference.”

Archbishop Donald Bolen, Archdiocese of Regina, is excited for this opportunity to reconcile.

“Pope Francis wants to engage with people and we as bishops want him to be able to engage with the survivors of residential schools, with spiritual leaders, elders in Indigenous communities, with Indigenous youth,” said Bolen. “To hear from them, to hear their heart, to hear their deepest concerns and desires.”

Bolen said he understands why some may be skeptical, but believes there is a “profound desire” to heal together.

Bolen said a date has not been set but he hopes Pope Francis will make a stop in Saskatchewan.

DELEGATION HEADING TO ROME

A delegation of Indigenous leaders, elders and bishops will also be heading to Rome ahead of the Pope’s trip to Canada.

Bolen said a group of about 25 to 30 people from across the country will meet with Pope Francis at the Holy See.

“It will be an occasion to discuss what Indigenous people need and desire out of the visit from him to this land,” said Bolen.

He added the delegation has been picked and the representatives will be announced soon.

Desjarlais said he would like the delegations to talk about the need for healing centres and programs for all Indigenous communities still living with trauma.

Dubois doesn’t believe a delegation should go to Rome before Pope Francis travels to Canada.

“We had been nice people, not it’s time to be kind (and) stand our ground,” she said. “This is our space and we deserve to be recognized in our space. Not to go there and have the feeling of still trying to fulfill a relationship that somewhat faults because he still has not stepped one foot in this territory for many years.”

The delegation is set to go to Rome from Dec. 17 to 20.

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The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.