moved that Bill C-573, An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, you may recall these words spoken on October 16, 1978:
Dear brothers and sisters, we are still grieved after the death of our most beloved John Paul I. And now the eminent cardinals have called a new bishop of Rome. They have called him from a far country... far, but always near through the communion of faith and in the Christian tradition. (...) I don't know if I can make myself clear in your ... in our Italian language. If I make a mistake, you will correct me.
Those were the first words spoken by the new pope, Pope John Paul II, formerly Karol Wojtyla, the first Slavic pope in the history of the Roman Catholic church and a pope that reigned for 27 years, one of the longest reigns ever.
I am very honoured to speak to my private member's bill, which is an act to establish Pope John Paul II Day. In essence, it seeks that every April 2, the anniversary of his death, be a day of memory for Pope John Paul II from this point forward in Canadian history. This would not be a formal legal statutory holiday but simply a day of memory.
I have indicated before, and I mean this very sincerely, that I am very moved to introduce this bill, being a proud first generation Polish Canadian and practising Roman Catholic. Words cannot express the significance and importance of Pope John Paul II to the Polish community in particular around the world and in Canada.
There are over one million Polish Canadians in Canada. When Pope John Paul II was elected as pope we celebrated and cried, and when he died we mourned, but in between those dates, the Polish community watched his every move with pride and a sense of destiny.
It must also be remembered that Pope John Paul II is not simply an ordinary pope of the Roman Catholic church. He has now been given the title “venerable” by Pope Bénédict XVI, which is a step toward sainthood, a process which it is anticipated will be completed within one to two years.
Beyond his Polish and Roman Catholic faith, Pope John Paul II, now known as venerable, was a world statesperson. He was one of the architects of the defeat of communism. He must be remembered not only for his religious ties and role but for his worldwide historical influence. In terms of his role in the fall of communism, I have some quotes.
Canadian reporter Eric Margolis described going into the central committee's headquarters in Moscow after the election of Pope John Paul II this way:
I was the first Western journalist inside the KGB headquarters in 1990. The generals told me that the Vatican and the Pope above all was regarded as their number one, most dangerous enemy in the world.
They recognized even then that he would play a significant role in terms of being anti-communist, possibly leading toward the downfall of communism in the Soviet Union.
Former priest and writer James Carroll asked this question:
What is the greatest, most unexpected event of the 20th century?
Isn't it that the Soviet Empire was brought down non-violently? Isn't John Paul II's story part of it?
That really is a rhetorical question and the answer obviously is yes. If we think about it from the perspective of our generation which grew up with the Soviet Union, communism, détente and the threat of nuclear annihilation. There was the constant threat and worry as children about this potential fight between the west and the Soviet Union.
Quite unbelievably the Soviet Union fell without one bullet being fired. John Paul's 1979 trip to Poland is described as “the fulcrum of revolution which led to the collapse of communism”. Timothy Ash put it this way:
Without the pope, no solidarity. Without solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of communism.
In fact, Mikhail Gorbachev said, “It would have been impossible without the pope”. He credits Pope John Paul II for being the key factor in the fall of the Soviet Union.
In addition, I would like Canadians to understand exactly the scourge of communism. Here we read about it. Here we had the threat of nuclear war, but for the people who actually lived it, it was a new life when communism fell.
In my own family, my father grew up in Communist Poland before he managed to come to Canada. My uncle and his family told me stories of their escape from Poland, about going across the border and being shot at by the police. I remember my father sending money in envelopes to his family in Poland from Canada. They were very small amounts of money relatively speaking for us, but they were fortunes for people over there. However, they could not really use the money to buy things because they did not have things to buy in the same way as we do here.
This defeat of communism must always be remembered, and the role of Pope John Paul II in that defeat must be honoured and remembered. The yearning of freedom for Poland is where it started and it spread to the other eastern bloc countries. It began in 1979 with Pope John Paul II going to Poland and standing up to the Communist regime.
There is another major accomplishment of Pope John Paul II. Nobody will agree with everything that any leader does, which is to be expected, but he did bridge the divide between the Roman Catholic church and other religions. I would like to quote people who are not Roman Catholic to prove that point.
In October 2003, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement congratulating Pope John Paul II on entering his 25th year of the papacy and essentially complimenting him for his role in bridging the divide between the Jewish faith and the Roman Catholic church. Immediately after Pope John Paul II's death, the same Anti-Defamation League issued a statement that Pope John Paul II had revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations saying that “more change for the better took place in his 27-year papacy than in the nearly 2,000 years before”.
There are many other examples of his attempts to bridge with other faith communities. In terms of the Muslim community, Pope John Paul himself, when he was in Casablanca on August 19, 1985, during his journey to Morocco, said:
Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. For us, Abraham is a very model of faith in God, of submission to his will and of confidence in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.
He reached out to the Muslim community during the time he was pope. He reached out of course to the Jewish community. Pope John Paul II said to the Jewish community when he was at the great synagogue in Rome on April 13, 1986:
The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.
He reached out to many other communities as well. On October 27, 1993 in Assisi he held a meeting of over 120 religious leaders from around the world, from different religions and Christian denominations, to try to foster some unity and respect among various religions and sects.
He did more during the time he was Pope to bridge the divide between the Roman Catholic church and to show respect for other religions and other faith communities than, I would argue, any other pope in history.
Pope John Paul II as a person, as a man, was a remarkable world leader. He was known as the travelling pope. He visited 129 countries and he attracted some of the largest crowds in human history, such as over five million people in Manila in 1995. He came to Canada on more than one occasion. When he came to Toronto in 2002, over 800,000 people came out to meet him and to pray with him.
When Pope John Paul II passed away, there were numerous quotes.
Everybody will remember Lech Walesa as the hero and the leader of the solidarity movement in Poland. In referring to Pope John Paul II, he said that without him “there would be no end of communism or at least much later and the end would have been bloody”.
Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan called the pope a “tireless advocate of peace”, while German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose own country was long held under the oppressive forces of communism, said,“Pope John Paul II wrote history. By his efforts and through his impressive personality, he changed our world.
Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav said that the pope “bravely put an end to historic injustice by officially rejecting prejudices and accusations against Jews”.
On his death, he was honoured with one of the largest funerals in human history. What we are really talking about here is the people of Canada providing some respect, honour and memory for Pope John Paul II. We have done it before. For example, we granted honorary Canadian citizenship to the Dalai Lama.
The Americans honoured Pope John Paul II. In 2004 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honour the United States awards to anyone.
In Ontario this bill passed first reading and perhaps even second reading. There was a similar bill to get an honour for Pope John Paul II. Unfortunately it died on prorogation. We are attempting to bring this honour to Pope John Paul II across Canada.
When Pope John Paul II died, the outpouring of grief and his funeral itself showed how strongly he was respected both as a religious leader but equally important as a world leader. At his funeral, his requiem mass on April 8, 2005 was said to have set world records for both attendance and the number of heads of state present at a funeral. It was the single largest gathering of heads of state in history, surpassing the funerals of Winston Churchill and other world leaders, such as Tito. Four kings, five queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers, and more than 14 leaders of other world religions were in attendance.
Many people say it is also likely to have been the largest single pilgrimage of Christianity in history. More than four million people from around the world came to Rome for the requiem mass.
This man must always be remembered and respected for many different reasons. I ask my colleagues to help me bestow this honour upon him in a non-partisan way, and to make April 2, the anniversary of his death, a day of memory each year.