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(By CBC News · Montreal, PQ – Posted: Jul 01, 2022 – Used with Permission) – The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador says it’s disappointed to learn only 400 seats have been allocated to survivors of residential schools in Quebec as Pope Francis visits the province for mass later this month.

The mass will be held near Quebec City at the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica on July 28, when the Pope is expected to apologize in person for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.

Of the 1,600 seats in the Basilica, only 400 have been allocated for First Nations in Quebec, said Ghislain Picard, the chief of the assembly. 

“The numbers set aside for First Nations are much much lower than what was expected. Our people had been waiting for this opportunity for years,” he said.

“The other 1,200, who are they? Do we have the government there? Do they need to be there? Do we have the dioceses across Quebec, and do they need to be there in full?”

The Pope will land in Canada on July 24 and will stay until the 29, with stops in Edmonton and Iqaluit also part of the trip. 

Picard said reconciliation and respect for Indigenous communities and residential school survivors should be at the heart of the planning ahead of the visit.

He said the assembly was also only given a handful of days to prepare a list of attendees, a difficult feat considering there are thousands of residential school survivors within the province alone. 

“It should be clear to the Vatican and the church that 400 is not enough,” Picard said. 

Pope Francis is due to arrive in Quebec City on July 27, where he will have meetings with dignitaries and some Indigenous leaders before holding the mass, which will also be broadcast to an expected 10,000 and 15,000 people from the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City. 

Benoit Thibault, the head of the organization committee behind the papal visit in Quebec, said the organization also wanted to prioritize seats for First Nations from the Maritimes who have also been invited. 

“We share the same goals. We both want survivors and their descendants to be able to meet the Pope,” Thibault told Radio-Canada. “We’re offering 70 per cent of the seats for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.”

When it comes to seats at the mass, “the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador has been given the biggest slice of the pie,” Thibault said. 

Discussions with the Quebec-Labrador assembly about the number of seats being allocated to residential school survivors are still ongoing, he added.

With files from Rowan Kennedy and Radio-Canada

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