Pope Francis departed Rome on Sunday for a week-long trip to Edmonton, Canada, where he’s set to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the abuse of Canadian Indigenous children in residential schools.
The Vatican has called the trip a “penitential pilgrimage,” and the Pope will be welcomed in Edmonton on Sunday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, the Governor General of Canada.
While in the country he will meet with Indigenous groups and address the scandal of abuse and erasure of indigenous culture in the country’s residential schools.
Indigenous leaders have long called for a papal apology for the harm inflicted for decades on Indigenous children. Last year, hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered on the grounds of former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has reported that more than 4,000 Indigenous children died either from neglect or abuse in residential schools, many of which were run by the Catholic Church.
In April, the Pope told Indigenous leaders at the Vatican that he feels “sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values.”
The Pope will also travel to Quebec and Iqaluit, capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, during the trip. Two Canadian cardinals will accompany him throughout his visit, Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Cardinal Michael Czerny.
Francis, 85, had a trip to Africa earlier this month canceled due to issues with his knee.
He said in an interview with Reuters that he still intends to visit Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, but he has received criticism for prioritizing that destination over visiting Ukraine, and for partially blaming NATO for Russia’s invasion.
“I would like to go, it is possible that I manage to go to Ukraine. The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help, but I would like to go to both capitals,” Francis said.
In a June interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa, Francis said the war “was perhaps in some way either provoked or not prevented.”
Pope Francis said that before Russia invaded Ukraine he met with “a head of state” who “was very worried about how NATO was moving.”
CNN’s Hada Messia and Radina Gigova contributed reporting.