First Nations visit with Pope cancelled

Pop Francis

OTTAWA – After careful assessment of the uncertainty and potential health risks surrounding international travel amid the recent spread of the Omicron variant, the Canadian Bishops, Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Metis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami have jointly decided to reschedule a delegation to the Vatican that had been scheduled this month to the earliest opportunity in 2022.

AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald made the announcement last week at a virtual gathering of chiefs. The delegation had planned to travel to Rome the week of December 18.

“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,” said National Chief Archibald, in a release. She indicated she is looking forward to hearing from the Pope when he travels to Canada, which the Vatican had said in October he was willing to do.

“The decision to postpone was a heartbreaking one, made after careful consultation with delegates, family members, community leaders, public health officials and the leadership of each of the three national Indigenous organizations,” the release read. “Particularly for many elderly delegates as well as those who live in remote communities, the risk of infection and the fluid nature of the evolving global situation presents too great a threat at this time.”

“We take comfort in the desire, conveyed to us by the Holy See, that the safety of the delegation should inform any decision to move forward. It is also important to note that the delegation is postponed, not cancelled.”

“Currently, the world’s health experts are still learning about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant. As more information becomes available, we will continue to assess the feasibility of future travel plans, based on guidance from the Canadian government and relevant international authorities,” continues the release. 

“Our shared commitment to walking together towards healing and reconciliation remains strong. We understand that the Holy See is very much committed to rescheduling this visit in the new year and we look forward to the opportunity for Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors and youth to participate in private meetings with Pope Francis,” the release states.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in June that national Indigenous organizations, including the AFN, would be sending a delegation to meet with Pope Francis. The trip was planned in hopes of seeing the Pope travel to Canada in return and delivering an apology for the role the Catholic Church played in operating much of the residential school system.