Pope Francis will visit Canada from July 24 to 30, on a trip during which he will publicly apologize for decades of violence against indigenous populations in Catholic boarding schools.

"Welcoming the invitation of the civil and ecclesial authorities as well as of the indigenous communities and peoples, the Holy Father Francis will make an apostolic trip to Canada from July 24 to 30 to visit the cities of Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit"announced this Friday the Vatican press office.

"I apologize to God" Y "I join my brother Canadian bishops in apologizing"the 85-year-old pontiff declared in April during an audience at the Vatican before delegations from the Métis, Inuit and indigenous peoples of Canada.

Through the voices of the indigenous "I have received, with great sadness in my heart, the accounts of suffering, deprivation, discriminatory treatment and various forms of abuse suffered by several of you, especially in boarding schools"declared the Argentine pontiff.

"I would like to be with you this year"for the celebration of Santa Ana on July 26, anticipated on that occasion.

– "an important step" –

"His Holiness’s visit would not be possible without the courage and determination of the survivors, indigenous leaders and young people who shared their stories."Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacted this Friday.

"While His Holiness apologized in Rome last month, a formal apology in person in Canada from the Catholic Church to the survivors and their families responds to the call of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is an important and necessary step (…) to promote true reconciliation"he added.

The discovery in recent months of hundreds of unmarked children’s graves has shaken Canada and many survivors are hoping for a forceful gesture from the pope.

Between the late 19th century and the 1980s, some 150,000 indigenous, mestizo and Inuit children were forcibly recruited into 139 boarding schools in Canada, where they were cut off from their families, their language and their culture.

Thousands died, mainly from malnutrition, disease or neglect, in what the Committee for Truth and Reconciliation defined in 2015 as "cultural genocide". Others were victims of physical or sexual abuse.

More than 1,300 anonymous children’s graves have been found on the sites of former boarding schools in the past year, and searches continue across the country.

– July, a key month for the pontiff –

Despite his health conditions due to severe knee pain that has prevented him from walking on several occasions and forced him to postpone his visit to Lebanon, scheduled for June according to local authorities, Francis officially confirmed the trip to Canada.

The pontiff will visit Edmonton, capital of the Canadian province of Alberta, Canada’s second city with the largest number of aboriginal people living in urban centers.

The Archbishop of Edmonton, Richard Smith, coordinator of the papal trip to Canada, assured that Francis will visit the headquarters of a former boarding school "and other important places".

The Vatican specified that he will also travel to Iqaluit, in the extreme north of the country, not far from the Arctic Ocean, which has the largest number of Inuit in Canada.

Francis was personally invited by the Inuit delegates to visit their region during his meetings with them in March and April at the Vatican.

The pope’s program also includes the largely francophone Quebec City, where the Catholic Church has historically held a prominent place and was a key authority until the early 1960s.

"Visiting these places offers the Holy Father the opportunity to have individual and public meetings"explained Monsignor Raymond Poisson, president of the Episcopal Conference of Canada.

The Argentine pontiff is also scheduled for an international trip in July to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.

It is a delicate trip, to countries that have been involved in bloody civil wars that have caused numerous victims and displaced people and that constitutes a challenge for the organizers both for safety and health.

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