By Cristina Cabrejas
Edmonton, Canada, Jul 24 (EFE).- Pope Francis arrived on Sunday in Edmonton, Canada, where he was welcomed with drumming and traditional chanting by representatives of the country’s indigenous peoples, from whom he will ask forgiveness on this trip for the responsibility of the Catholic Church in the abuses to which they were subjected in the 19th century in church-run residential schools where they were interned during the so-called process of assimilation.
“This is a trip of penance. Let’s say that is its spirit,” Francis told reporters after taking off from Rome earlier on Sunday.
After a flight of more than 10 hours and due to the time difference, trip organizers wanted to let the pontiff rest for the remainder of the day at the St. Joseph Seminary in the city in the western province of Alberta so that he can awake refreshed to attend to the remainder of his travel agenda, which will begin on Monday.
Due to problems with one of his knees, the pope disembarked from the jet using an elevator and not by descending the stairs, and he was transported in a wheelchair to one of the airport hangars, where he was welcomed by Canada’s govenor general, Mary Simon, the first indigenous person to hold that office, and by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The governor general represents Canada’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth.
Francis was also welcomed by a six-person group of drummers and singers from the Alexis Nation who performed traditional songs for him.
As per a change in the normal protocol, which presumably will be repeated in the coming days, the pope will spend little time on his feet because of his knee problems.
On hand to welcome the pope, along with the representatives of Canada’s First Peoples, the country’s indigenous inhabitants, were soldiers with one of Canada’s mechanized brigades.
Sunday’s ceremony was relatively brief, as will be all of the events during the 85-year-old pontiff’s visit, so that he will not overly tire himself.
Reporters asked the pope about the possibility that he will visit Ukraine in the near future and he told them that he would like to go but admitted that organizing such a trip at this time – while the war Russia launched against the neighboring country is ongoing – is “complicated.”
The Vatican’s top official for foreign relations, Paul Richard Gallagher, had said in a recent interview that Francis could travel to Kyiv in August, although that possibility would seem to be remote given the pope’s own words to reporters.
The pope’s official agenda in Canada will begin on Monday with a visit to the residential schools in Maskwacis, where he will meet with members of the indigenous communities and deliver the first speech of his tour.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 139 government-financed residential schools administered mainly by the Catholic Church were founded in Canada in the 19th century and about 150,000 indigenous children were housed there – separated from their families and forced to abandon their native languages, traditions and cultures – to undergo assimilation into the country’s largely Europe-centric society.
On Monday afternoon, the pontiff will travel to a local church, where he will meet with more members of the indigenous communities and will bless the image dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first North American indigenous person – specifically a member of the Mohawk people – to be declared a saint by the Catholic Church.
Francis will also visit Quebec City and Iqaluit, the capital of the far northern territory of Nunavut, during his week-long Canadian tour, before returning to Rome next Friday.