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Canada Oct. 1, 2018

Papal visit not on bishops’ 2019 agenda, but talks continue 

By Deborah Gyapong

CCCB President Lionel Gendron says a papal apology in Canada for residential schools is unlikely next year, but discussions continue as the Pope looks for “an opportune time” to visit Canada. (Deborah Gyapong photo)

OTTAWA (CCN)—A papal apology in Canada for residential schools is unlikely in 2019 because a papal visit was not on the agenda of Canada’s Catholic bishops at their Sept. 24-28 plenary.

There was no formal discussion, though it may have come up in informal conversations, said the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Lionel Gendron, in a phone interview from Cornwall, Ont., after the plenary closed.

Bishop Gendron said the bishops have been advised by Rome to prepare for a possible visit and that the Pope is looking for “an opportune time.”

Sources say plans for a visit would have to be in the works now to accommodate a 2019 visit, and even that would be challenging because of the federal election in October 2019.

The bishops have not discussed costs with the government, though Bishop Gendron said he had the impression Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “ready to pay for security.”

Estimates of the cost of Pope Francis’ recent two-day visit to Ireland ranged as high as $47 million.

“I was told by Archbishop Chaput from Philadelphia that when the Pope came (to the World Meeting of Families in 2015) it was $45 million but he could find people to cover that cost.” Donors for a Canadian visit could likely be found, he said, although “maybe not for the whole thing.”

While a papal visit was not discussed, relations with Canada’s Indigenous peoples were high on the CCCB plenary agenda.

The bishops discussed the results of eight “sharing circles” with Indigenous leaders held earlier this year where bishops listened to the hopes and concerns of Indigenous peoples. Bishop Gendron said the process taught bishops that Indigenous Catholics would like “to sit with their bishops, to share with their bishops.”

Bishop Gendron noted the wide diversity among Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, including the many different First Nations, Inuit, and Metis.  Quebec alone has 11 different nations, he said, while one western bishop said he was prepared to meet with all 19 different Indigenous peoples in his diocese.

 “What we want to do is work with them; walk with them,” Bishop Gendron said, describing this pastoral journey of reconciliation as “a work in progress.” He expects the bishops will continue to hold listening circles.

The bishops decided last year to draft a pastoral letter on Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, which is in the works, Bishop Gendron said.  Meanwhile, he and the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations are trying to arrange a meeting, while other CCCB representatives have been building relationships with other Indigenous leaders.