Indigenous delegates postponing Vatican trip over pandemic worries, says AFN national chief

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said today an Indigenous delegation is postponing a trip to the Vatican planned for next week due to concerns about the omicron variant — but sources also have told CBC News a final decision has not yet been made.

The delegates were supposed to hold private meetings with Pope Francis from December 17 to 20 to lay the groundwork for his upcoming trip to Canada, which has not been scheduled yet.

Archibald announced the postponement in a speech this morning to First Nation chiefs attending the winter meeting of the Assembly of First Nations.

“The health and wellbeing 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,” Archibald said.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, meanwhile, will be meeting with Indigenous partners shortly to make a final decision about the trip, said public relations director Neil MacCarthy of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The delegates set to travel to Rome raised concerns about possible health risks for vulnerable participants, especially elders.

They also worried about travel complications that could arise, with the meetings set to happen just days before the holidays.

No dates have been set for new meetings.

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Regina Donald Bolen told CBC News he’s comfortable with the idea of travelling at this time but understands the health concerns of the Indigenous delegates.

“Relations are being strengthened, the voices of survivors are being heard, the waves of suffering experienced at residential schools are being acknowledged in a greater way than they ever have before,” Bolen said. 

“I profoundly hope that that work of truth and reconciliation continues, and of course it can continue.”

Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with young people at the Saint Dionysius School of the Ursuline Sisters in Athens, Greece on Mon. Dec. 6, 2021. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

The delegates planned to call on the Pope to apologize personally for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in running residential schools.

Three separate delegations representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis were supposed to get one hour each to speak with the Pope, to be followed by a final meeting with all delegates to hear his response.

This isn’t the first time the audience with the Pope has been delayed. The meetings were pushed back when the pandemic was first declared.

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