Mr. Speaker, it is an honour again to stand here. I say again because the last time the bill came in the House I spoke on it briefly as well. I want to thank the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville for bringing this to the floor of the House of Commons. In the last session it was brought in by the member for Brampton West, Andrew Kania. I want to quote from his speech, but I will get to that in a few moments.
I want to reiterate what was said earlier about the true inspiration of a man who travelled this world seeking out peace, seeking out ways to bridge the gap between the human dynamic, between us and those people we may not agree with or those people we find ourselves in constant conflict with. He was a man who was situated in a position that was clear to the world where he was, which was the head of the Catholic Church, situated in Vatican City, yet he managed to bridge the gap between so many different factions of people, their religion as well as nations around the world. As someone said earlier, the man visited 129 countries in the existence of his 27 year rule as the leader of the Catholic Church. It is absolutely incredible.
I am not Catholic, but I sure am inspired by the actions of this individual as a world leader at a time when the world needed it, from the late 1970s until his passing in 2005. It is an honour to be here tonight and talk about this. I will be supporting the bill.
I remember his first words from October 16, 1978, when he said, “Dearest brothers and sisters, we are still all grieved after the death of the most beloved Pope John Paul I. And now the imminent cardinals have called a new bishop of Rome. They have called him from a far country, but always near to through the communion of faith and in the Christian tradition”.
Those were the first words of the new pope, Pope John Paul II, formerly Karol Józef Wojtyla, the first Slavic pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church and a pope who reigned 27 years.
I am very honoured to speak to designating this day. We have honoured other world leaders, including those religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and others. We have also honoured great leaders of certain nations. Let us put John Paul II in the category of each and every one of those as a world leader, a religious leader, a leader of faith, a leader of nations and a leader in the world of diplomacy, which is a huge thing to do over his 27 years. Some credit him with the fall of communism, but his roots were within the community in Poland. That made him put in the very distinct position of understanding through the years of growing up in Poland.
These are a couple of things Canadian journalists had to say after the passing of Pope John Paul II. Eric Margolis described going into the central committee headquarters in Moscow after the election of John Paul II and this is what he described. He said, “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”. He is one of the architects of the defeat of communism, there is no doubt it. 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, this is another comment from James Caroll who is not only a writer but a former priest. He says, “What is the greatest most unexpected event of the 20th century? Isn't it that the Soviet Empire was brought down non-violently”. One the largest empires this world has ever seen was brought down non-violently. He went on to say, “Isn't John Paul II's story part of that”? It is a big part of that. What came from that was his desire to see impoverished people were able to fulfill dreams, the dream of feeding their own families, of worshipping as they so choose to do.
He became such a large part of the world dialogue on peace that everywhere he went world attention followed him. People knew he was the type of individual to bridge the gulf between warring factions and those who conflicted with each other. That is the big reason we are here today; it is to honour a man. However, it is not just a national honour, but an international honour in this national forum. As I said earlier, the Soviet Union fell without one bullet being fired.
Pope John Paul's trip to Poland, in 1979, is described by Timothy Ash as the “fulcrum of revolution which led to the collapse of communism”. He said:
Without the Pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of communism.
In fact, Mikhail Gorbachev himself 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.
There is another major accomplishment by John Paul II. Nobody will agree with everything that any leader ever does, which is to be expected, but he did bridge the divide between the Roman Catholic church and other religions, as I mentioned earlier.
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 complimented him for his role in bridging the divide between the Jewish faith and the Roman Catholic church.
Immediately after the death of John Paul II, the same Anti-Defamation League issued a statement that Pope John Paul II had revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations, saying, “...more change for the better took place in his 27-year papacy then in the nearly 2,000 years before”. What a statement from the Anti-Defamation League, that he accomplished in 27 years what could not be accomplished to that extent in the 2,000 years prior.
There are other examples of his attempts to bridge with other faith communities. In terms of the Muslim community, Pope John Paul II, when 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 sane 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, once again, in 1986. He said:
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.
This was an amazing compliment from that man. Let us face it, he was extremely brave to be saying these things. No other Pope had said this prior to him. This was a man who was obviously sincere in his belief in the church and the Roman Catholic faith, but he was so sincere in his attempts to bridge the gulf between what conflicts us that he was willing to put himself on the line to say these things. It was controversial at the time, and I remember when it happened, in the mid eighties.
On a personal note, I come from Newfoundland and Labrador. The Pope visited the little island of Newfoundland, and with him came an incredible sense of patriotism in our own province. Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews who lived in Newfoundland all said the same thing. We could not believe the Pope was actually coming to our little piece of the earth. In this little corner of the earth that we call our own in the north Atlantic, the weather is not great, and the Pope did experience that. We were so proud that this man of great international and historical significance was there. Why? He wanted to be there because he wanted to spread the word. He wanted to take the word of God and bring it around the world. It was the word of God, yes, but also peace, love and happiness. It was an incredible honour.
It is a mild gesture that we could make in this House to pass this bill.
I would like to quote from my former colleague Andrew Kania, who spoke eloquently when he brought the bill to the House. He said many things about how the pope would travel the world, as I mentioned earlier, and how he tried to bridge the gap between other religions. He said:
This was a pope who will go down in history as not only one of the greatest popes, but one of the greatest world leaders, somebody who did try to reach out to different communities and different religions and show respect. He did not go around saying that the Roman Catholic Church was right and other religions were wrong. He went around saying let us work together and try to be good, help and respect one another and show love and compassion.
A love and compassion that we still feel to this day as if he were still with us. In many respects he is still with us, and that is one of the chief reasons why we should pass the legislation.