Survivors need to be kept top of mind as planning for Pope’s visit continues

Monday, July 18th, 2022 1:44pm


Image Caption

Anne Wildcat, Maskwacis site coordinator, for the visit of Pope Francis.


“Our older elder survivors, they’ve said, ‘I will stay home because I’ve made my peace. I’m happy in my life. I’ve moved on. An apology won’t make a difference, but it’s welcomed’.” — Anne Wildcat, Maskwacis site coordinator
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The logistics to bring the Pope to Canada are considerable given the four-month timeframe for planning his visit is drawing to a close.

With the Pope arriving next week, Anne Wildcat wants to ensure the reason for the Holy See’s visit is not lost in the hosting activity: The message of apology to residential school survivors and their families.

“We have to keep reminding ourselves there are emotions involved here so therefore it’s not just a visit, (that) the Holy Father is going to come, say a few words, and he departs. There’s a lot of prayer, a lot of hope going into this, that this will assist many survivors to move forward who have been struggling at this point in time,” said Wildcat, who is the Maskwacis site coordinator.

Maskwacis will be Pope Francis’ first official stop in his six-day visit to Canada and the only inclusion of a former residential school site. The Ermineskin residential school was one of the largest operated by the Catholic Church in Canada. The Catholics ran about 60 per cent of the country’s residential schools.

The Pope will be making his “principle statement” in Maskwacis on July 25.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity that the Holy Father has selected Maskwacis as the community to extend his apology on behalf of the church to all our survivors,” said Wildcat.

Maskwacis is expected to be host to 15,000 people.

The park-and-ride system will be used to accommodate everyone, said Shane Schreiber, assistant deputy minister in Alberta Parks and Environment.

There will be shuttles from Ponoka and Wetaskiwin, as well as Heritage Valley in Edmonton’s southwest. The only access to Maskwacis will be through park-and-ride or group charter.

Schreiber said a couple of smaller sites for shuttles will be used if the main sites become “over-registered,” but he didn’t reveal their locations.

There will be rolling road closures and limited access on highways to accommodate the Pope’s travel schedule.

The Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) will be shut down on July 24 for the Pope’s travel from the Edmonton International Airport to his Edmonton destination, and then again on July 27 when he leaves Edmonton.

The QEII will also be impacted on July 25 in the areas of Ponoka, Wetaskiwin and Edmonton for the Pope’s attendance at Maskwacis.

On July 26, highways 16, 43 and 633 will be impacted when the Pope travels to and from Lac Ste. Anne for the first day of the annual pilgrimage. Access on this day will only be allowed through park-and-ride or group charter.

Edmonton streets will also be impacted with detours, road closures, parking restrictions and transit adjustments in specific locations, said Nicole Poirier, the director of civic events and festivals for the city.

Adjustments will occur on the afternoon of July 25 when the Pope holds a mass at the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in downtown Edmonton and on the morning of July 26 to accommodate the Pope’s open-air mass at 10 a.m. at Commonwealth Stadium. Eighty-thousand people are expected to attend that mass.

Schreiber said provincial support was estimated at between $10 million and $20 million.

Wildcat said shuttles will also carry people from the communities that comprise Maskwacis.

Survivors’ attitude about the Pope’s visit in Maskwacis “run the gamut,” said Wildcat. There are those who won’t attend and those who need to attend.

“Our older elder survivors, they’ve said, ‘I will stay home because I’ve made my peace. I’m happy in my life. I’ve moved on. An apology won’t make a difference, but it’s welcomed’,” said Wildcat.

“Other individuals who are struggling, it’s trying to get as many of those individuals (in), who we hope an apology will help in their road to recovery and healing,” said Wildcat.

The apology—like the rest of the Pope’s appearances—will be livestreamed.

But practicality and safety will prevail, she said.

“We’re well aware there are people who want to come to Maskwacis from across the country, who want to hear the apology specifically, so we’re doing our best to accommodate…We don’t want to turn anyone away, we really don’t, but specifically survivors, because this is for them and they are our focus,” said Wildcat.

Supports are available now at Maskwacis leading up to the Pope’s visit next week and will be on the day, with 150 support workers on site and tents set up for quiet time.

At a news conference last week hosted by the Edmonton Archdiocese, both Wildcat and Marion Haggarty-France, Alberta’s sites coordinator for the Papal Visit to Canada, talked about “managing expectations.”

Haggarty-France noted that the Pope’s age, at 85, and his health had to be taken into consideration.

“He is determined to get here, but we also have to keep him safe and able to do the whole trip,” she said.

Because of that, the Pope’s commitments have been limited to one hour at each event.

“We’re working on the premise that it’s a simple, meaningful, and beautiful event and for that we are being very frugal as far as this goes,” said Haggarty-France.

She said the church was hoping to fundraise as much as $18 million and was depending on partners to “help us get there.” She also said this was not a Papal event on the same level as other Papal events.

The federal government will provide more than $35 million. Of that, Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations will contribute up to $30.5 million for community-led activities, ceremonies and travel for survivors. Another $3 million will support Indigenous groups in the three regions Pope Francis will attend. As well, $2 million will go to interpret events and the Pope’s comments into Indigenous languages.

From Edmonton, Pope Francis flies to Quebec City for two days. He ends his trip in Iqaluit before flying back to Rome July 29.

Call to Action #58 of the 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report on the legacy of Indian residential schools, delivered in 2015, required that the Pope come to Canada and apologize to survivors, their families and communities.

When Indigenous delegations went to the Vatican this past spring, Pope Francis offered a qualified apology and committed to coming to Canada.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.