moved that Bill C-266, An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, the bill for which I have just moved second reading would designate April 2 as Pope John Paul II Day in Canada, allowing all Canadians the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the man who took a strong stand on human rights and opened the dialogue between other faiths to promote freedom of religion and speech across the globe. These are values that we as Canadians share.
I bring this before you today not only as an opportunity to celebrate a man who did so much for millions of Christian followers around the world but to celebrate a man who did much more to uphold the values that we as Canadians cherish so deeply, values of justice, liberty and democracy.
Pope John Paul II was the third longest reigning pope in history and he took a strong stance for human rights, democracy and religious freedom, visiting over 129 countries to carry this message around the world. John Paul II truly humanized the papacy. He was hailed as the people's pope and changed our expectations of the role. He became more accessible to the people and spoke regularly every Wednesday to the faithful.
The riding of Mississauga East—Cooksville that I represent is diverse in culture and religion. What impresses upon me the most about Pope John Paul II is that in the course of his papacy he transcended the boundaries of the Catholic faith and promoted peace and freedom of religion. He chose to see commonalities in our world religions rather than differences and the characteristics of each that bond and unite us.
He once said, “[I]nstead of marveling at the fact that Providence allows such a great variety of religions, we should be amazed at the number of common elements found within them”. As well, on a visit to Jordan, he pointed out, “The three historical monotheistic religions count peace, goodness and respect for the human person among their highest values”.
Pope John Paul did not believe that religious differences should instigate conflict but rather they should unite all people in the face of differences that may otherwise divide us. As Canadians, we are proud of our government's efforts on this front. We have established the office of religious freedom, adding credence to the fact that Canada is a country where people of all faiths and religions can be free to worship as they choose. Furthermore, our multicultural values encourage Canadians to find our commonalities instead of differences, and to learn and benefit from our varied histories and backgrounds.
One of Pope John Paul's papal titles was Pontifex Maximus, or supreme pontiff, which when literally translated from the Latin language means “master bridge-builder”, a fitting title as he has done much to reach out to religious leaders around the world and promote dialogue. He stressed the need for peace and justice in the Middle East, stating:
I pray that my visit will serve to encourage an increase of interreligious dialogue that will lead Jews, Christians and Muslims to seek in their respective beliefs, and in the universal brotherhood that unites all the members of the human family, the motivation and the perseverance to work for the peace and justice...for which they yearn so deeply.
In addition to the respect and admiration he showed to other faiths, he also sought to heal deep historical wounds, making strong statements against anti-Semitism and asking forgiveness from the Jews for the sins committed by the church. In 2000, he offered a prayer at the Western Wall, stating:
—we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.
In a 1986 visit to the great synagogue in Rome, the first visit to a synagogue by any pope, John Paul II declared that each of our religions wishes to be recognized and respected in its own identity, beyond any ambiguous appropriation. The respect and admiration he showed to other great religions should be an example to others who have forgotten the messages of peace and love that unite rather than divide our religions and cultures.
Pope John Paul II respected and admired various aspects of all religions, remarking on the Islamic faith that, “the religiosity of Muslims deserves respect. It is impossible not to admire, for example, their fidelity to prayer“.
As Canadians, we are proud of the fact that so many immigrate here to find a better life for their families, where they are free to worship as they choose. The respect, admiration and acknowledgement for the ways that all religions have shaped our world and even given back to Canadian society are characteristics that Pope John Paul II shared with all Canadians and with this government.
Human rights are an important and defining characteristic of Canada's foreign policy and our country's identity. Our country and this government have been a strong voice for the protection of human rights and the promotion of democratic values on the world stage. We are currently a party to seven major international human rights conventions. Canadians are proud of the work we do to promote these values around the world.
I attend many citizenship ceremonies in Mississauga and with each visit I hear another story of a family that has fled situations in countries where its rights and freedoms where not protected, where democracy seemed unattainable, similar to those I left behind myself in coming to Canada.
We often imagine the fight for democracy as one that is beyond our reach, but in fact Pope John Paul II proved that there was no insurmountable problem facing our world. He, himself, endured the tyrannies of Nazism and Communism and spent much of his papacy speaking out against such oppression and human rights violations.
Pope John Paul II stood for international understanding, peace and defending and promoting equality. His messages were in keeping with our government's foreign policy and gave hope for a better world.
His efforts impacted global politics and inspired peaceful opposition to authoritative regimes. For example, the Pope played a role in 1990 peace negotiations in the hopes of finding a diplomatic solution between Israelis and Palestinians.
On a visit to Zimbabwe in 1988, he spoke out against apartheid in South Africa, saying:
I appeal to all those who bear responsibility for the destiny of the peoples of this region, of whatever racial extraction or ideological inspiration, to renounce the use of violence as a method for achieving their ends. They have a duty before history to resolve their differences by peaceful means...
It is also said that Pope John Paul II played a large role in the collapse of several stifling dictatorships that we have seen in our time. In his meeting with Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1987, he pushed the dictator to accept a return to democracy. He openly stood behind the Vicariate of Solidarity, the church-led pro-democracy, anti-Pinochet organization. He met with leaders of opposition groups and encouraged their cause. The opposition praised John Paul II for denouncing Pinochet as a dictator, as many members of Chile's opposition were persecuted for much less.
Following his visit, Bishop Camus, a strong opponent of Pinochet, said it was already clear that “Chile will not be the same....No country the Pope has visited has remained the same after his departure”.
Twenty-five years after the Pope's visit, democratically elected President Sebastian Pinera celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Pope's visit to Chile, hailing it as an event that changed the country and the lives of its citizens forever.
In Haiti Pope John Paul II criticized the leadership of the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, highlighting how deplorable the inequality and poverty he saw before him was. His visit lead to protests against the dictatorship and in 1986, just three short years after his visit, Duvalier was removed from power.
Again, in Paraguay the collapse of the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner was also said to be precipitated by Pope John Paul II's visit in 1988, where he said:
Politics...has a fundamental ethical dimension because it is first and foremost a service to man. The church can and must remind men--and in particular those who govern--of their ethical duties for the good of the whole of society.
This is how I see my service and the service of my colleagues to this great country. We treat our duty in Parliament with great respect and insist that we stay true to the will of those who elected us.
Canada is recognized as a world leader in the promotion of international human rights. These Canadian values are part of what makes our country such an attractive place for people to immigrate. We are seen as a place where families much like my own have come to find a better life for themselves and for their children. These immigrants have shaped our multicultural landscape and have done so much to build our economy. Without holding true to these values, we would not be the vision of safety and prosperity immigrants see in Canada today. As such, we would not have benefited so greatly from what new Canadians have brought to us in helping to build our great country.
Pope John Paul II shared this message of love, peace, tolerance and equality. He was an excellent reminder to all Canadians of our responsibility internationally and here at home to incorporate these values in our daily lives and to respect, appreciate and protect them every chance we get.
One of Pope John Paul II's greatest legacies is the way he contributed to the fall of communism. He was a man of courage and compassion. He was only 19 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and he was forced into manual labour. With the so-called Soviet liberation, any opposition to atheistic totalitarian rule would not be tolerated, but this did not stop John Paul II from carrying out the word of God and spreading the values of humanism when he joined the priesthood.
His tour of Poland in 1979 inspired the people and united them in their quest for freedom, which eventually led to the Solidarity movement. As one man, without an army at his back, and equipped only with his words, he inspired the non-violent opposition to communist oppression and tyranny in Poland, leading to its eventual collapse.
His words, “be not afraid”, simple as they may seem, undermined the strongest weapon in an oppressive regime's arsenal: fear. He made certain that the church would stand behind its members and would be a place of freedom, a sanctuary and a beacon of hope.
Speaking on the victory of the movement, it has been said, “ May the word solidarity flow from our Polish soil—with all those people who still suffer racism, neo-colonialism, exploitation, unemployment, persecution and intolerance”.
His words in Poland were echoed in other Soviet countries, such as Hungary, East Germany, Romania, Czechoslovakia and others, a region that is now considered democratic.
Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II, and on this point I agree. In the words of Lech Walesa, the founder of the Solidarity movement, “Before his pontificate, the world was divided into blocs. Nobody knew how to get rid of communism. [Pope John Paul II] simply said: 'Don't be afraid, change the image of this land'”.
I am of Polish descent. I am a Catholic, but that is not why I stand before the House today to ask that members support this legislation. I stand before the House in an attempt to recognize a great man, one who embodied the values of our multi-faith, multicultural society, a man who stood up against tyranny, whose messages of peace and tolerance transformed and greatly impacted global politics.
John Paul II stood up against tyranny and supported democratic values, something Canadians young and old should never forget to be grateful for and something I remember each and every day I sit in the House to be the voice of my constituents.