Pope Francis is expected to visit at least three cities during a late July trip to Canada, CBC News has learned.
Sources involved in the planning of the trip say the Pope will likely make stops in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit during what is scheduled to be about a four-day trip to the country. CBC News is not identifying the confidential sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The pontiff initially announced plans for the visit during his Vatican meetings on April 1 with Indigenous delegates from Canada, where he offered an initial apology for the actions of individual Roman Catholic Church members in Canada's residential schools.
Sources say the trip with the three planned stops — which will be funded by the Canadian Catholic Church, with possible federal dollars — was in discussion before the Vatican meetings.
The delegates who travelled to Rome expect Pope Francis to deliver a fulsome apology on Canadian soil for the church's role in running residential schools, which would fulfil a key call from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron said Vatican advance teams have already scouted Iqaluit, Quebec City and Edmonton in preparation for the trip.
Caron said her organization has also been discussing the planned papal visit through a committee created by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"We hope that the Pope will come to Canada," Caron said.
"He will apologize, deliver, hopefully, somewhat of a stronger apology ... that goes a little bit further and recognizes and acknowledges the Catholic Church's role in residential schools. Not just those individuals."
Vatican announcement expected soon
If the Pope goes to Edmonton, Caron said she hopes he will also take the opportunity to visit the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage grounds, designated a national historic site of Canada, 78 kilometres to the northwest.
"It is a special site," she said. "A spiritual site, a healing site for Métis people."
In Rome, Pope Francis said he wanted to attend the annual pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne, which takes place from July 25 to 28 this year.
"This year, I would like to be with you on those days," Pope Francis said in Italian on April 1, during his final remarks to Indigenous delegates.
The Pope's planned day trip to Iqaluit follows an invitation by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) president Natan Obed, who was asked by Inuit leaders to advocate for a papal visit to Nunavut's capital.
"Considering that the Catholic Church has had a footprint in the Canadian Arctic for well over 100 years, we felt that it was very important for the Pope to see our homeland," Obed said.
"And understand the Inuit context to the larger Indigenous context of the Catholic Church's presence and also the role that it has played in running residential schools."
Obed said that ITK was involved in a site visit by Vatican officials last Friday in Iqaluit that he described as positive.
"We recognize our role as being helpful rather than being instructive to the Pope about what he must or must not do," Obed said.
In a statement to CBC News, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said it is consulting national Indigenous organizations on dates and locations, which have not yet been finalized, and will continue those discussions for the programming of the visit if and when it is confirmed.
The Vatican has the ultimate say, and sources said a formal announcement is expected in the coming weeks.
Papal visit to be different from '84 cross-country trip
Pope Francis received several invitations from Indigenous leaders to visit their territories, including from First Nations chiefs in Manitoba and Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir of Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc.
Casimir gave the Pope a handwritten invitation to spend time in her community, which sparked a reckoning on residential schools last year after it announced the discovery of what are believed to be more than 200 unmarked graves near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site in British Columbia.
Some sources are worried the decision about where the Pope goes may disappoint some people.
But since the 85-year-old pontiff has significant health limitations, they say central hubs that can accommodate as many residential school survivors as possible will be selected to represent Northern, Western and Eastern Canada.
Obed said Indigenous people should not take responsibility for how the trip unfolds or become "gatekeepers for the winners and the losers" of where the Pope visits.
"This is their event. This is what they are wanting to do," Obed said. "The Catholic Church and the Vatican have to own this."
This papal visit is expected to be much shorter than Pope John Paul II's 12-day cross-country trip in 1984 — which included every region of the country — and entirely contingent on the pontiff's health.
Pope Francis has a chronic nerve condition called sciatica, which causes pain from his lower back down to his legs. He walks with a pronounced limp and has difficulty using stairs, so accessibility is a key factor for any site he visits.
Papal visits usually take at least one year to plan, so the decisions about his Canadian visit unfolded under a much shorter time frame. It will also take place on the heels of his planned trip to the African continent in early July.
"The Canadian bishops are grateful that Pope Francis has accepted their invitation to visit Canada on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation," the CCCB wrote in a statement to CBC News.
"Given the Holy Father's advanced age and desire for simple, modest visits, we can expect the Canadian visit to reflect this reality in both the length of the pilgrimage as well as the geography of such a visit, given the size of Canada. We can anticipate that the visit to Canada will be very different than those of the past."