Striking the right tone for Pope's visit 'a big challenge,' says Quebec archbishop

While some people are excited to meet the pontiff, it’s also a dark and traumatic moment for many Indigenous people, said the archbishop of Quebec, Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, Thursday, as he discussed plans for Pope Francis's July 24 to 29 visit to Canada.

In Quebec, Pope Francis will focus on reconciliation, being able to 'walk together'

The pope sitting in his wheelchair and waving.
Pope Francis will be in Canada from July 24 to July 29 and is expected to make an apology for the harm caused to Indigenous people by the Catholic Church. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

Finding a balance between healing and celebrating when Pope Francis visits Canada later this month is "a big challenge," said Quebec Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, Canadian primate of the Roman Catholic Church, at a news conference Thursday.

While some people are excited to meet the pontiff, it's also a dark and traumatic moment for many Indigenous people, Lacroix said.

The Pope's pilgrimage to Canada, from July 24 to 29, comes in the wake of his apology to First Nations, Inuit and Métis representatives in April for the harm done by residential schools that were run by the Catholic Church.

Given that, the archbishop said it is important to strike the right tone for Pope Francis's visit and acknowledge the occasion with respect and sensitivity.

"Some people don't have the heart to party," Lacroix said. "It can't be too festive, but at the same time it's not a funeral."

The Quebec and Labrador regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, Ghislain Picard, said the visit is not a festive one, and it should be up to the survivors to determine if and how any cultural ceremony happens.

"We definitely have to stay away from any kind of celebration," he said. "Hopefully we can have talks with the people responsible [for the visit] to make sure that everything that happens will respect the wishes of the survivors."

The Quebec archdiocese is planning to set up designated safe spaces where residential school survivors or anyone who needs support will be able to access professional help from social workers, psychologists and community workers, in partnership with Indigenous Services Canada.

WATCH | Quebec archbishop says Pope will likely encourage people to 'walk together in new ways': 

Quebec archbishop says Pope's visit shows Catholic church committed to reconciliation

3 months ago
Duration 3:37
Pope Francis's trip to Canada will involve three symbolic phases, all related to reconciliation with Indigenous people, according to Quebec Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix.

A visit in 3 phases

Pope Francis will make three stops in Canada, and each represents a symbolic phase, Lacroix explained.

His stop in Alberta will focus on recognizing and acknowledging the harm done to Indigenous people by the Catholic Church. Lacroix said the Pope chose Edmonton as his first stop because Alberta had more residential schools than any other province in the country.

The Pope's time in Quebec will emphasize reconciliation.

"Now that we've got the truth out there, and we've expressed the truth, we've recognized what happened and we [own up to it] — now, how are we going to reconcile and be able to look at each other face to face and walk together?" Lacroix asked.

"In Quebec, everything will be about that."

The Pope's last stop, in Iqaluit, will focus on hope for the future.

Lacroix said the work of the Catholic Church to make amends with Indigenous peoples won't end with the papal visit.

"It's important that we put the few days that the Pope will be here in Quebec into perspective," he said. "These few days will certainly give us a boost. They'll give us more direction, but it's not the only moment."

"We have relationships with many communities across Canada, and so we will continue to do that. There will be an 'after' this visit, where we'll continue walking together."

Mass at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica

Three men sitting at a table.
Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand, right, Quebec Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, centre, and deacon Benoît Thibault attended a news conference on Thursday about the logistics and preparations for the Pope's visit in Quebec. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC News)

Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand said the municipality is expecting tens of thousands of people to flock there for the visit and has been preparing for a variety of scenarios.

The city will be restricting traffic and securing two outdoor areas where people can watch the Pope's mass on July 28 on big screens.

That mass will take place in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, 30 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, in the basilica that is one of Canada's five national shrines. The service will be open to the public, but space in the church will be limited.

Picard said so far the information about how many spots will be available for First Nations in Quebec remains unclear, but that "the priority should be the survivors."

"I think the church needs to understand that this has to be respected," he said.

He said many of the survivors and their families were interested in attending the mass and have been asking the assembly how they can secure a spot, and that it is important to prioritize them first.

Marchand said another important part of the planning is to ensure Indigenous pilgrims will have easy access to the sites, by providing public transportation, for example.

The mayor said the city expects the visit to cost between $1 and $2 million, but he said it doesn't yet have an exact price tag. The federal government will reimburse the city for most of those costs, he said.

He said the city's economy and tourism sector will greatly benefit from the visit.

The Quebec archdiocese expects to spend about $3 million on the Pope's visit, with much of that funding coming from donations, according to Benoît Thibault, the deacon in charge of the planning committee for the Pope's visit in Quebec.

With files from Sandra Hercegova