Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to rise to speak about Bill C-266, an act to establish Pope John Paul II Day. I want to thank my colleague, the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville for introducing it to the House.
As the first Polish Pope and a global force for peace and inter-faith dialogue, John Paul II remains today an important figure in the hearts of people around the world. I am happy to stand today to support the motion.
As the member of Parliament for the electoral district of Parkdale—High Park, I am honoured to represent so many members of the Polish community in Toronto. They are a people that through generations of hard work have built one of the most vibrant and community oriented neighbourhoods in our city. From the Canadian Polish Congress national office to the St. Stanislaus-St. Casimir's Credit Union, the Copernicus Lodge, St. Casimir's Church and St. Vincent de Paul, our neighbourhood is home to many landmarks in Toronto, built by generations of Poles in the west end of our city.
Every year, families from Parkdale—High Park mark proud moments such as Polish Constitution Day and Polish Independence Day. We commemorate the terrible tragedy of the Katyn massacre by laying a wreath at the Katyn monument at the foot of Roncesvalles. We come together in joyous celebration at the Polish annual street festival on Roncesvalles. Over the years, these meaningful community events have helped me understand the lasting importance and influence of Pope John Paul II in the lives of the Polish community, but also to respect his global achievements.
The Polish community knows intimately the role that Pope John Paul II played in bringing hope and democratic reform to Eastern Europe. Canada's recognition of Pope John Paul II would send a profound signal that Canada stands with global leaders who speak out against oppression. Most importantly, it would signal that as Canadians we support leaders who use compassion, diplomacy and goodwill to advance the principles of democracy.
Karol Wojtyla, who would come to be known as Pope John Paul II, was born in Poland in 1920. The course of Pope John Paul II's life was deeply intertwined with major historical shifts in his country.
As the Polish community in my riding, and all those who have migrated from another country know well, the welfare of the people at one's birthplace or those who share one's language and culture is never forgotten, even after many years. Though Pope John Paul II was seated at the Vatican in Rome, his early experiences with Nazi and then Communist violence in Poland motivated him to take an active role in pressing for religious freedom and democratic reform in Eastern Europe and around the world.
Karol Wojtyla was raised in an era marked by tremendous political turmoil and suffering. During his first year of university the Nazis invaded Poland, jailed Jewish professors and closed classroom doors. Desperate to support himself and his father, he found work in a quarry. In the following years, his father and last living parent passed away and he devoted himself to religious study.
Under the Polish Communist Party he saw first hand the aggressive way in which religious freedom was extinguished. The Polish Communist Party tried to neutralize the influence of the Catholic Church. Church schools were nationalized, monasteries and seminaries were shut down, Catholic hospitals and nursing homes and charities were closed; church leaders were blackmailed, persecuted and harassed; and priests were recruited as informants on other priests. By 1953, a thousand Polish priests were in jail.
His experience, first of Nazi violence, and later the total control of the Polish Communist Party, left him with a deep understanding of the ways in which violent dictatorships affect the lives of ordinary people. He saw that first hand.
Later, when Pope John Paul II, he went on to speak about his experiences at the United Nations. He reached out to the diplomats there to end political abuses and to view any threat to human dignity as “a form of warfare against humanity”. He went on to say that he had come from the country on whose living body Auschwitz been constructed.
From Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines to Jean Claude Duvalier in Haiti to Sese Seko Mobutu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pope John Paul II was vocal in his recriminations of dictators around the world. He was also an outspoken critic of the South African apartheid regime and the Iraq war.
In addition to speaking out against oppression, he also took the initiative in building positive forums of international and interfaith co-operation. In 1985, Pope John Paul II founded World Youth Day, seeking to inspire and engage youth in community development on a global level.
Canadians have long been committed to the same values that Pope John Paul II so strongly advanced on the world stage: democracy, diplomacy and dialogue. Historically, Canada has often played the role of mediator and peace broker on the world stage. Pope John Paul II served as an excellent example of what can be accomplished when global leaders commit to pursuing these principles and putting them to action.
I understand that some people may say they do not agree with every opinion that was expressed by Pope John Paul II. Some people will say that we should perhaps not be dedicating a day to a religious figure. I would argue that when we consider the global narrative of the life of John Paul II as an international force of hope, of justice and dialogue, it seems fitting for Parliament to celebrate his legacy. Above all, I am in the House to represent my constituents, and I know what Pope John Paul II means to so many of them.
Parkdale—High Park is the heart of the Polish community in Toronto, home to community organizations, newspapers, and a strong community fabric that has made it one of the most vibrant community oriented neighbourhoods in Toronto.
In our community, Pope John Paul II represents not only an important figure in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, but also a remarkable geo-political leader who spoke up for freedom and democratic change in eastern Europe and around the world. It is for that reason I will be supporting the bill.