moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, hon. members, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-266, which calls on Parliament to designate April 2 of every year as Pope John Paul II day.
John Paul II served as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from October 16, 1978 until his death on April 2, 2005. He played an influential and vital role in promoting international understanding, peace-building and helping to defeat communism in central and eastern Europe. He was a remarkable man of many accomplishments and has left a permanent mark upon the world.
There were unfortunate events that took place in his lifetime. He had just turned 19 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. During those years of war, he began his studies in Krakow but was forced to suspend them for a year of compulsory labour for the state. He later returned to his studies while working in a quarry and then in a factory. We can only imagine what he went through.
In 1942, aware of his call to the priesthood, he began courses in a clandestine seminary. After the Second World War, he continued his studies and was ordained into the priesthood on November 1, 1946.
Much of the future Pope's life as a cleric was lived under communist rule in Poland. While he rose through the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy, he refused to compromise or accommodate demands made by the communist government. As archbishop and later a cardinal, he had to engage in a very delicate balancing act. His opposition to communism and government repression was an undeniable but subtle path in encouraging and promoting greater loyalty to the Catholic Church, as an alternative to the government itself. He promoted the ideas of freedom and liberty without directly attacking the government.
In 1978, John Paul II made history by becoming the first non-Italian Pope in more than 400 years. As the leader of the Catholic Church, he travelled the world, visiting more than 100 countries to spread his message of faith and peace. One of the most significant and memorable features of John Paul II's papacy was perhaps his battle against communism. After he was elected Pope, in 1978, one of the first things he did was to end his predecessors' accommodationist attitude toward communism and communist nations.
In June 1979, Pope John Paul II returned home to Poland as the first Roman Catholic pontiff to visit a communist ruled country. Standing in front of a million Poles in Warsaw, he was welcomed with 14 minutes of unabated applause from the entire crowd. He told them not to be afraid. The message was a call to action.
The Pope's visit was seen as inspirational to many Catholics in Poland who felt they were no longer alone. Many were deeply opposed to the country's communist government. This trip uplifted the nation's spirit and sparked the formation of the solidarity movement in 1980, which later brought freedom and human rights to his troubled homeland.
Many consider this visit to be a pivotal moment that eventually led to the fall of communism in eastern Europe. Like the first in a row of dominoes, Poland's relatively peaceful transition to democracy led to wholesale change throughout the region over the next year. This set off a chain of events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Mikhail Gorbachev's acquiescence to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Gorbachev himself stated that the fall of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without the Pope.
The pope's defence of peace, human rights and freedom also extended beyond his native country and the Catholic church. John Paul II's criticism of dictators—Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay, Augusto Pinochet of Chile and the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos—encouraged opposition movements that led to their eventual downfall.
In 1998, he travelled to Cuba and met with communist leader Fidel Castro. Thousands of people received him in the capital of Havana. The pope did not hesitate in asking that Cuba be opened to the world and the world opened to Cuba. He also condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba and its adverse effects on the poor. He urged the Roman Catholic Church to take a courageous and prophetic stance in the face of the corruption of political or economic power and to promote human rights within Cuba. It was a five-day visit in which the pope helped to plant a seed of freedom and helped thousands reaffirm their faith.
He defended democracy before the European Parliament by supporting the arrival of the democratic movement against the regime in the Philippines. He worked for peace with various countries, urging them to negotiate and find common ground. This was the case in a variety of situations, including Chile with Argentina, Israel with Palestine, and even our neighbours the United States, with Iraq.
We have had debates in this House at second reading of this bill and then the bill went to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. I would like to make it very clear that this is not a religious bill. This is not a bill to aid or promote one religion over another or give a special recognition to one particular Pope.
As I have already mentioned, this is a bill to recognize Pope John Paul II's legacy, which goes well beyond his role in the Catholic church. He stood for religious tolerance and freedom, and he spent a great deal of time encouraging interreligious dialogue. To me, this represents a big part of what it means to be Canadian. Pope John Paul II proved that nothing is impossible. He stood up for populations that were oppressed by totalitarian regimes. He will be remembered for his role in the collapse of several stifling dictatorships, and for the way he inspired peaceful opposition to Communism in Poland, leading to its eventual collapse in central and eastern Europe.
In 2004, former American president George W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honour, to Pope John Paul II. The president read the citation that accompanied the medal, which recognized “this son of Poland” whose “principled stand for peace and freedom has inspired millions and helped to topple Communism and tyranny”.
After receiving the award, John Paul II said:
May the desire for freedom, peace, a more humane world symbolized by this medal inspire men and women of goodwill in every time and place.
There was one Soviet leader who sought out and received an audience with Pope John Paul II. It was Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last president of the Soviet Union. The audience took place in 1989.
In an interview Gorbachev gave to Radio Free Europe on April 8, 2005, he said, almost a week after the Pope's death:
Now we will say that the pope was simply an extraordinary man. And one of the most extraordinary qualities of the pope was that he was a devoted servant of the Church of Christ. And, finally, as the head of state of the Vatican, he did a lot, using his opportunities along these lines, he did a lot to prepare for the end of the Cold War, for the coming together of peoples. He did a lot to remove people from the danger of a nuclear conflict. He was a man who used his high position—I'll speak bluntly—in the best possible way. He was [a man] who did not put political calculation at the center, but who made his judgments about the world, about situations, about nature, about the environment, based on the right to life, to a worthy life for people and on the responsibility of those people for what is gong on in the world. I think that there has never been such an outstanding defender of the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden in various cases and in various situations, either historically speaking or in terms of ongoing conflicts. He was a humanist. Really. A Humanist with a capital H, maybe the first humanist in world history.
It took great courage and resolve to oppose the Communist forces and fight for a better way of life for Europeans and indeed people across the world. Designating April 2 as Pope John Paul II day would allow Canadians to reflect on the courage and compassion shown by this great man. I would ask everyone to join me today in supporting this very special commemoration of Pope John Paul II. As many Canadians honour, admire and try to emulate him, let us set aside a special day to consider him and his works.