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First Nations’ trip to Rome to meet Pope Francis postponed due to Omicron variant

Vatican delay 'makes sense'

UPDATE: 1:14 p.m.

A delegation of First Nations representatives set to visit the Vatican this month has postponed the trip due to COVID-19.

Last month, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) announced its list of 13 Indigenous representatives from across Canada that were to fly to Rome to meet with Pope Francis between Dec. 14 and Dec. 21 to discuss reconciliation with the Catholic Church.

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir is one of the delegates and one of just two representing B.C. She said she is disappointed, but understands the need to postpone due to concerns about the Omicron variant of the virus.

“That makes sense, especially with the new Omicron and potential new health risks bringing home,” Casimir said.

She said the AFN, as well as Métis and Inuit delegations and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) are all in agreement to reschedule the trip in the new year.

Casimir said she is relieved the trip is delayed given the potential risk posed by the Omicron variant. She said sees a silver lining in the delay in that it gives her more time to speak with band members regarding the messages they would like her to relay to the pope.

“I was really proud to be part of that delegation from across Canada,” Casimir said, noting she was looking forward to the church acknowledging its role in the residential school system and discussing what reconciliation could look like.

She also hoped to ask the pope to visit Tk’emlúps during his future visit to Canada, which he has agreed to at the invitation from the CCCB.

Casimir envisions that visit occurring at the band’s Powwow Grounds, where Pope Francis would hear from residential school survivors about the institution’s impact on them.

Casimir said she is looking forward to getting more information on when the Vatican trip will be rescheduled and on what dates the pope will travel to Canada.

“We look forward to either going there or for him coming here, whatever comes first,” she said.

The AFN delegates were set to have a one-hour meeting with Pope Francis on Dec. 20 after flying to Rome on Dec. 14.

The delegation was to discuss topics such as reconciliation, unmarked graves and an apology from the pope on behalf of the Catholic Church for its role in the abuses and loss of culture inflicted on residential school attendees.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was to cover travel costs.

The Vatican trip was planned in the aftermath of revelations the Tk’emlúps band made in May, when it announced it had found signs of 200 probable graves on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School via a ground-penetrating radar survey. Additional findings of unmarked graves were subsequently found at other residential school sites by other bands in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

Pope Francis has expressed sorrow over the findings, but has not made a direct apology on behalf of the Catholic Church, which ran most of the schools across Canada on behalf of the federal government.

The delegation of 13 included two youth representatives and survivors of the residential school system.


UPDATE: 9:40 a.m.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald says an upcoming Indigenous delegation to the Vatican has been postponed.

She made the announcement to a virtual gathering of chiefs Tuesday morning.

A representative for the Catholic bishops said it was meeting with Indigenous partners Tuesday afternoon to make a final decision and an update would be provided after the meeting.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in June that national Indigenous organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations, would send a delegation to meet with Pope Francis.

The trip was planned in hopes of seeing the Pope travel to Canada in return and deliver an apology for the role the Catholic Church played in operating the residential school system.

Archibald said Tuesday the delegation planned to travel to Rome the week of Dec.18, but that has been postponed because of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

"The health and well-being of our delegates, their families and communities is paramount to us and we will not put anyone in harm's way if we can help it."

She said she looks forward to hearing from the Pope when he travels to Canada, which the Vatican said in October he was willing to do.

Residential school survivors and their families have sought a papal apology for the abuses committed against Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools, which were funded by the federal government, but operated by churches, including the Catholic Church.

The final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada delivered in 2015 listed a papal apology as one of its 94 calls to action, but it has sat unfulfilled.

A push for the Pope to apologize has re-emerged this year, given the discovery of what are believed to be hundreds of unmarked graves at the former sites of residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

— The Canadian Press


ORIGINAL: 8:50 a.m.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald says an upcoming Indigenous delegation to the Vatican has been postponed.

She made the announcement to a virtual gathering of chiefs this morning.

Archibald says the delegation planned to travel to Rome the week of Dec.18, but that has been postponed because of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir was to be among the group, following the discovery of 215 unmarked children's graves at the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The discovery, and those that followed elsewhere, shocked the nation and led to a call for an apology from the pope for the actions of the Catholic Church.

— The Canadian Press



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