Mr. Speaker, today, my speech is about Bill C-266, which seeks to create Pope John Paul II Day.
I wanted to make this speech because this bill really bothered me in the sense that it made me think long and hard about what I should do. As a Catholic, I recognize the tremendous contribution that Pope John Paul II made to humanity, if you will. However, I am choosing to vote against this bill, and I think that it is important to explain why.
First, one of the issues that led to my decision is that Pope John Paul II is not Canadian. He is an important international figure who visited Canada, but he is not originally from here. It is also important to remember that the Pope is a head of state. This day would therefore recognize a foreign head of state, and I am a bit concerned that this would set a precedent. I would like to point out that this does not mean that Roman Catholics or Polish Canadians cannot celebrate the late Pope. These people can do so in a more general way without necessarily having a national day.
It is also important to understand that the other national days in Canada that recognize individuals are those to recognize Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who, as we all know, were historic prime ministers. There is also Raoul Wallenberg Day. This man was a great activist during the Second World War and he was made an honorary Canadian citizen.
Another issue I had was that people are not religious in order to get glory. When a person makes a commitment to God, especially in the Catholic Church, he does not do it for recognition or glory. Religious work is done humbly, discreetly and simply. Humility is like the ground in which other virtues grow. The gospels present it as the fundamental virtue.
Pope John Paul II worked in many areas. We all recognize his wonderful commitment to peace and to opening the lines of communication between religions. He was a political activist who was against Communism and political oppression. He worked to help youth and to reform the Roman Catholic Church. In my opinion, it is more important to recognize and remember these achievements than the person himself.
For instance, we could decide to have a national interfaith dialogue day to pay tribute to the late pope and remember the message that he was trying to send. In my view, celebrating the individual per se is not consistent with the fundamental tenet of humility in religion. That is why the best way to remember Pope John Paul II is by remembering his battles and ideals, and by continuing to spread his message.
Another issue that came to mind as I was examining the bill is that he would become the only religious figure recognized in Canada. As we know, Canada is a secular country. Religious freedom is guaranteed, and the right to religion is recognized. Even the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.
However, I would like to point out that religious traditions in Canada are very diverse. We have Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Orthodox Christians and Baptists. We have the various traditional religions of first nations and Inuit peoples. We have atheists, Jews, Orthodox Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and the list probably goes on.
I think all we have to do is walk around our major Canadian cities to see that we have places of religious worship that belong to different religions in a number of places.
I do not think that recognizing a particular religious figure from a particular religion is necessarily the best way to celebrate Canadians in all their diversity. That might create some problems, if you will, or raise some concerns.
Everyone is free to celebrate their beliefs, but I do not think it is healthy or appropriate to recognize a pope or a particular faith more than another. That goes against Canada's religious diversity.
The problem is that I cannot see why we would celebrate one pope more than another. As I see it, every pope has contributed in his own way to building humanity and developing ideals and beliefs.
Choosing a pope in particular is as if we were not recognizing the work of the others. I take issue with that. In my view, a person becomes pope because he has worked very hard and has fought for many things. I do not like the idea of elevating one pope above the rest.
I also want to clarify that I really struggled with this bill. I spoke with priests in my riding and other people. I talked it over with them. I think they understood my views on this bill.
I come from a Catholic family. We even had a bishop in my family. My grandfather's brother was a long-time bishop of the diocese of Amos. Back home, people recognize him. They all know who he is.
I understand the idea of wanting to pay tribute to an important figure in this religion. However, I unfortunately do not believe that a national day is appropriate. I think that if we had truly wanted to celebrate his memory, we could have, for example, created a national day in honour of one of his ideals, such as peace. We could have commemorated the date that Pope John Paul II passed away. Someone advocated for that. I think it would have been important to acknowledge the ideals he fought for and not simply his name.
That is why I wanted to make this speech. I wanted to explain to people why I chose to vote against this bill, even though it was really difficult for me.
I recognize the work done by my colleague. I know that he worked hard on this bill and that he did it with the best of intentions. I sincerely hope that he understands or that he at least listened carefully to the issues and concerns I had regarding this bill.