Pope apology tour of Canada continues with stadium Mass
EDMONTON, Alberta, July 26 (Reuters) - Pope Francis will say Mass for an expected crowd of 60,000 people on Tuesday, his first big open-air event on a trip to Canada centred around apologizing for the Catholic Church's role in residential schools that tried to erase native cultures.
The Mass takes place on the day the Roman Catholic Church marks the feast of the grandparents of Jesus.
Francis is expected to repeat his frequent appeals to younger generations to cherish their elders and learn from them, a custom still revered in indigenous communities but waning in many Western societies.
In the afternoon, Francis, who is using a wheelchair and a cane because of a knee ailment, is due to visit Lac Ste. Anne, a pilgrimage site about 70 km (44 miles) west of Edmonton popular with both indigenous Canadian Catholics and those of European origin.
The highlight of Monday, Francis’ first full day in Canada, was his visit to the city of Maskwacis, formerly home to two residential schools. There he issued an historic apology, calling the Church’s role in schools and the forced cultural assimilation they attempted a “deplorable evil” and “disastrous error”.
More than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools. Many were starved, beaten for speaking their native languages and sexually abused in a system that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”
Indigenous leaders as well as survivors of the schools said that while the pope’s apology evoked strong emotions and was a highly significant step towards reconciliation, more action needed to be taken by the Church and the government.
“You can’t just say, ‘I am sorry,’ and walk away. There has to be effort, and there has to be work in more meaningful actions behind words,” said Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis.
On Wednesday, the pope will travel to Quebec City for the more institutional part of his visit, meeting with government officials and diplomats.
On his way back to Rome on Friday, he will stop for a few hours in Iqaluit in the Canadian Arctic, where indigenous affairs will return to the fore.
The Iqaluit area is one of the fastest-warming parts of North America and there the pope is expected to address the dangers of climate change.
(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)