Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my friend and colleague the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville for bringing this important legislation before us today.
As the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor said, this is an international type of bill. It is not just a Canadian or a Polish or a Catholic bill. I would like to thank him for his comments because I really enjoyed what he had to say on communism.
I would also like to thank Mr. Chris Korwin-Kuczynski, a long-time former deputy city councillor, former deputy mayor and retired honorary navy captain, for his dedicated campaign to see the bill brought before Parliament. I would also like to thank Fathers Gil, Blazejak and Filas for their generous support and faith, and Ms. Danuta Gumienik and Mietek Lotakow for their dedication and assistance in making sure that the bill reached us here on the floor today.
The member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor also talked about the fall of communism and the ideas, and why John Paul II was such a threat to totalitarianism. It was because ideas are the enemy of tyrants. Mikhail Gorbachev went on to say one other thing, which is remarkable given that he was one of the main adversaries of John Paul and his mission to bring freedom and democracy to the earth. He said that Pope John Paul II's “devotion to his followers is a remarkable example to all of us”.
I fully support the bill and everything that it represents. In fact, I am the seconder of the bill and proud to be so. The bill is not just about Blessed John Paul II being Polish or Catholic, though there is no doubt special meaning for the Polish community, especially Canadians of Polish heritage and Catholics generally. It is truly about the inspiration that he left as his legacy to all peoples of all faiths in all lands in the world and in Canada.
Blessed John Paul stood for values that are shared by diverse peoples across this planet: justice, democracy and forgiveness. John Paul II held the value that all people are equal and should be free to practice whatever religion they choose, no matter where they are in this world. These values are not only Christian values, but they are shared by many religions around the world. For Canadians, he practised the values of freedom, democracy and human rights the world over and promoted that everywhere he went. He was not just solely focused on the Catholic church but was also influential, as we have already discussed, on the world stage building bridges between all faiths.
It was already remarked that when he visited Israel he addressed them as “my older brothers”. That was absolutely significant and historic.
He reached out to the Eastern Orthodox church and the Muslim faith. A goal he had was to form a coalition of faith. When he visited the Umayyad mosque, which was a former Christian church where John Paul the Baptist is believed to be interred, he made a speech calling for Muslims, Christians and Jews to live together. As he continued to visit mosques and places of worship of many faiths around the world, he did so in order to reach out for understanding and to build those bridges between those faiths.
One of his major accomplishments was inspiring a peaceful revolution in Europe that resulted in the downfall of communism on that continent, which began in his native Poland with the rise of the solidarity trade movement, and it was through those words “be not afraid”. Those were meaningful and impactful words. Those uplifting words resulted in human rights and freedom being brought to Poland and subsequently to now all former Iron Curtain countries that made up the Soviet bloc. He did this not with a sword or rifle but by using words and by using ideas, which, again, were the enemy of tyrants.
He did this simply because those who suffered through communism imagined the changes that they wished to see, which he promoted, and they did it by being not afraid. They dared to imagine and they dared to aspire. It inspired those who had lost hope that they would ever see political freedom in their lands, and they found hope through solidarity. History tells us what happened later on: communism fell.
John Paul II had close ties to Canada. He made separate visits here. He went to the Arctic in 1987, just that visit, because he had promised to go there and was not able to do it on a previous visit. He made a special attempt to do that and he succeeded. There is also a special meaning to the pope for me. There is actually only 20 days difference in age between my dad and the pope. In fact, my dad will be 93 on April 2.
The two of them had very similar histories in Poland. Both of them were 19 when the war began. My father, obviously, subsequently became a soldier, and John Paul followed his faith. That was important.
In 2002, the military did a very special thing for me. They allowed me, as part of a four-person military team, to assist with World Youth Day for almost an entire year, to help plan World Youth Day and bring 800,000 people to Canada.
This was a post 9/11 world. All the youth of the world came, and they were not just Catholic. They were of all different faiths. It was important to see the numbers of different faiths that came here.
As a Canadian solider at the time, with Polish immigrant parents, from the Parkdale area of Toronto and St. Casimir's Polish Catholic parish, this was a massive honour for me personally. It was a huge responsibility to get it right and ensure that the close to a million people from around the world who arrived here to celebrate with Pope John Paul II were able to do so safely and were able to celebrate with all the other youth of the world.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric. To have the honour of being so close to the Pope, as close, in fact, as I am to the member for Brampton West right now, was something that was inspiring. To be able to talk to him, to be able to hold his hand, to be able to have a conversation with him in Polish was something that was inspiring to me and to the kids he was able to inspire.
What the Pope often said was, “You are the salt”, and “You are the light”. He referred to the youth as being those. They reacted to that. “[D]o not be afraid” was something he repeated quite frequently on the stage.
What he said to them was:
You are young, and the Pope is old, 82 or 83 years of life is not the same as 22 or 23. But the Pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations.... I have seen enough evidence to be unshakeably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope.
It should be noted that the Canadian World Youth Day was the last one he attended. He was the originator of World Youth Day, which happens every year in Rome and about every four years in a different country around the world.
Having stood mere feet from His Holiness at that time, I could see his courage. I could see the incredible suffering in his eyes, because he was so pushed down by the serious illness he had.
It is important that all of the members know that he lived his life as he spoke it. He showed nothing but courage by sitting there, by suffering as he did, to make sure that he came to Toronto. To make sure that he came here and to make sure that he inspired those young people was absolutely monumental. I came away absolutely inspired, having met Papa.
The Pope was a brilliant man who reached out to millions of people beyond the borders of the church. By supporting this bill, we show all Canadians that we have not forgotten this great man and we honour those values he inspired in us all. He was a man who travelled with a staff in his hand and wore the shoes of a fisherman. He was a man who brought hope, peace and comfort to so many all around the world. He was a man who, with his words, through his deeds and with his faith, brought us all together with his message of hope.
He was a man who will be remembered long after the rest of us have been forgotten. He was a man who made this earth a more human place for us all.