By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – An Indigenous delegation will travel to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis in late-March, after the initial meeting scheduled for December 2021 was postponed due to Omicron concerns.
Delegations from the Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami will each meet separately with the Pope on March 28, according to a statement put out by the three Indigenous groups and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
On April 1, the Pope will then meet with all three delegations together.
The statement hints that there could be another postponement in the event COVID numbers increase again.
“For those individuals who are chosen, they expressed a great desire to represent their people,” Bishop William McGrattan, vice-president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in Calgary, told APTN News.
“They saw this as something beyond their personal pilgrimage, or their personal going to meet the Holy Father. They were representing their communities. I think that’s the significance, the importance.”
Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron told APTN that despite the delay, the delegates’ goals remain the same.
“I look forward to continuing to work with Metis Nation citizens to ensure our stories, especially those of Metis survivors, are shared with Pope Francis,” he wrote in a statement.
Back in November, former AFN national chief Phil Fontaine said the delegates expected the Pope to apologize for the Church’s role in operating residential schools on an upcoming trip to Turtle Island, which could occur as soon as the fall.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is set to cover the travel costs of the trek to the Vatican.
The purpose of the journey is to determine how Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church can move forward together on the road to healing and reconciliation.
While they could have moved the meeting online and done it sooner, organizers felt it was crucial for the Pope to hear from survivors themselves in the flesh.
“This was an opportunity not only for him to hear what they have been experiencing but also, I think, to help prepare him for his eventual visit,” McGrattan said.
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.