Papal Visit to Canada: A Brief History of Papal Visits

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Prior to commercial air travel, which only became common in the mid-20th century, it was considered historically rare for a pope to travel beyond Europe.

It is according to Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CECC), which says that “the main reason why a pope would go to another diocese in Italy or to another country in the world is to respond to a particular pastoral need”.

The need today is reconciliation, with Pope Francis preparing to meet with representatives of indigenous peoples throughout a six-day tour of Canada. His visit is an effort to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in forcing an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children into Canada’s residential school system.

As Pope Francis arrived in Edmonton, marking the first papal visit to the country in 20 years, CTVNews.ca looks back on other historic visits by a former leader of the Catholic Church.


Apostolic visit of Pope John Paul II, September 9, 1984


The first papal visit in Canada happened in 1984, when Pope John Paul II got off the papal plane in Quebec. The trip included a 12-day tour across the country, which included Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Montreal, St. John’s, Moncton, Halifax, Toronto, Midland (Ontario), Winnipeg/St. Boniface, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Vancouver and Ottawa.

“Speaking in English and French, the Holy Father delivered more than 30 important speeches as well as numerous other statements, some of which were addressed to indigenous peoples,” reads the CCCB website.


Apostolic visit of Pope John Paul II, September 20, 1987


The second papal visit in Canada occurred on the morning of September 20, 1987, when Pope John Paul II returned to visit Fort Simpson, in the Northwest Territories — a destination on the itinerary of his previous visit which had to be canceled due to weather conditions.

On its website, the CCCB described the visit as a “spiritual celebration”.


Third Apostolic Visit of Pope John Paul II, July 23, 2002


The third papal visit was held in July 2002 for World Youth Day in Toronto, where, according to the CCCB, “a herd of over 800,000 people gathered in Downsview Park for the closing papal mass”.

The pope spent six days in and around the great Canadian city.


What to expect from Pope Francis’ visit

Among the destinations planned by Pope Francis is the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School in the Alberta community of Maskwacis. This is where he should issue a formal apology to Indigenous peoples for the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools.

The Canadian tour will also bring the pope to Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit.

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