‘Move forward together’: Pope holds giant public mass in Edmonton football stadium

Pope Francis spoke about the importance of grandparents and the elderly as thousands gathered for a public mass at Edmonton’s football stadium Tuesday, a day after the pontiff apologized for abuses committed at Catholic-run residential schools.

Francis prayed for “a future in which the history of violence and marginalization suffered by our Indigenous brothers and sisters is never repeated.”

“Young and old, grandparents and grandchildren, all together. Let us move forward together, and together, let us dream.”

About 65,000 free tickets were available for the mass but many rows of seats were empty, particularly in the upper decks. Organizers estimated there were about 50,000 in attendance.

Francis blessed and kissed babies and young children who were handed to him as he was driven through Commonwealth Stadium ahead of the service.

He stood in the popemobile as it slowly made its way around the football field. Cheers came from the stands and an Indigenous drum group played for his arrival.

Pam Kootnay, from the nearby Enoch community, did the first reading at the service. Indigenous participation was incorporated in different ways throughout the mass.

However, Francis did not address Indigenous Peoples, cultures or traditions much throughout the event.

People largely watched the mass in silence, responding only in prayer. Many Indigenous people in the crowd held up photos of family members.

At one point during the blessing of the eucharist, a person yelled “repeal the doctrine of discovery” — papal documents used in colonization.

Near the end of the mass, Richard Smith, the Archbishop of Edmonton, thanked Francis for fulfilling his promise “to come to Canada and thereby demonstrate your closeness to us all, especially to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples of this land.” He thanked the Pope in Cree, Nakota Sioux, Michif, Inuktitut and French.

Edith Didzena held a photo of her mother, Regina Etthidzine, as she sat in the stadium with her children for the mass. Didzena, who lives in Bushe River on the Dene Tha’ First Nation in Alberta, said her mother went to residential school but died before she could hear the Pope’s apology.

Acknowledging past wrongdoings doesn’t erase what happened, Didzena said, but it helps start healing.

“It just helps me to deal because I lost my language and my culture. Even though I didn’t go to residential school, I was affected by it,” she said.

On Monday, during a visit to the community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, the Pope apologized to residential school survivors and their families for the role member of the church played in the cultural destruction and forced assimilation of Indigenous Peoples. He also begged forgiveness for evil acts committed.

“In the face of this deplorable evil, the church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children … I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous Peoples,” Francis said.

Patty Crofton, a member of Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, said she did not sleep well after hearing the apology because it brought back difficult memories. She went to day school and her parents went to residential schools.

“I am on my own healing journey from all of this,” she said before the mass.

Crofton said she didn’t fully accept the apology. It didn’t feel like it was from the Pope’s heart, she said, because it was a prepared address. Crofton, however, said it’s up to each person to accept the Pope’s words.

“It’s better to get this out there for future generations and hopefully this will never, ever happen again to anybody,” she said.

The pontiff also said there must be a serious investigation into what took place. He called the overall effects of the policies linked to residential schools “catastrophic.”

Organizers have said holding a mass on the second day of a papal visit, not the first, is noteworthy, and Francis wanted to demonstrate his priority was to first address the legacy of the residential school system and Indigenous people on their lands.

A team of 460 priests and 56 deacons also delivered holy communion at various stations throughout the stadium. At the end of the mass the crowd in the stadium broke out in applause.

Tuesday is the feast day of St. Anne, who was the grandmother of Jesus. It is a day of particular reverence for Indigenous Catholics.

Later in the day, Francis was to travel to Lac Ste. Anne, northwest of Edmonton, to take part in the community’s annual pilgrimage, which regularly welcomes tens of thousands of Indigenous participants.

Later in the week, Francis is set to travel to Quebec City for meetings with Indigenous Peoples and to host another mass. He is also to travel to Iqaluit.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.


— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

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