When Airdrie resident and RCMP Corporal, Gina Slaney was escorting media in the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton this week during Pope Francis' visit, it never occurred to her that she would have a one-on-one interaction with him. 

"That was not planned! I was standing at [the] ground level, just outside of the stadium. Pope Francis entered and he was making a large circle around in his vehicle and he was waving to the crowd. He was very engaged with everybody," she said. 

Slaney said that Vatican officers were taking babies from the spectators and handing them to Pope Francis for a blessing.  

"There was a mom behind me in the stands and she was holding her baby out. I didn't think that the Vatican officers would see her so I took her baby and I attempted to give the baby to one of the officers. But it was at this point that the officer put his hand on my back and walked me over to Pope Francis." 

Gina Slaney and the PopeAirdrie's very own RCMP officer, Gina Slaney had a chance face-to-face encounter with Pope Francis himself (Photo provided by Gina Slaney)

The Pope kissed the infant's forehead and then asked Corporal Slaney a question. 

"He then asked if it was my baby to which I laughed and said no - I don't have any more babies. Then he reached his hand out to me and I took it. It was a special moment," she said. "All I was thinking about was my grandmother and how I wish she was still alive to see this as she was a devout Catholic. This would have been very important to her. 

After the mass, the family whose infant Corporal Slaney plucked up and delivered to the Pontiff was interviewed by various media outlets about the experience. 

"The mother told them that I made a miracle happen for their family, so that was the most important part for me. I'm glad that I had a part in what is going to be a very special day and a huge memory for that family." 

Gina Slaney Airdrie's very own RCMP officer, Gina Slaney had a chance face-to-face encounter with Pope Francis himself (Photo provided by Gina Slaney)


And although the interaction with the Pontiff himself was most definitely a career highlight, Corporal Slaney underlined that it was also the interactions with those attending the various events during Pope Francis' visit that offered her insight into the very real and very deep pain that many First Nations and Indigenous people carry with them as a result of the abuse they and their families suffered in residential schools. 

"I spoke with many Elders and Indigenous community members at all of these various events. They shared their thoughts and their views about everything that has happened with regard to residential schools, and it was really eye-opening for me," Corporal Slaney said. "They shared their personal stories; so, to hear somebody talk about what their mother or their father or their grandmother went through at these schools...I was educated." 

The Pope's visit to Canada was meant to be a "penitential trip" meant to try and reconcile with Indigenous people for the church's role in residential schools. An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where neglect and physical and sexual abuse were rampant. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church. 

He issued an apology earlier this week at the site of a residential school in Maskwacis, Alberta, saying in part that it is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation and enfranchisement, which also included the residential school system, were devastating for the Indigenous people of Canada.