Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to be able to speak today about the bill being put forward by my colleague.
It is an important bill, because it celebrates and brings recognition to a man who, in my view, rose above merely being a religious figure. Pope John Paul II was a living symbol of unity. His work was not just to disseminate the word of God but to share in the vital values that we as Canadians share: peace, tolerance and liberty.
Pope John Paul II was, of course, also a man of God. In that role he had many accomplishments. I am not a Catholic, and I was not raised in the Catholic faith. That is why when I rise today to talk about Pope John Paul II, it is because of the things he did as a religious figure, but not through religion.
Pope John Paul II accomplished incredible things in this world. If he had not taken his message, his simple message, his rallying cry, “Be not afraid”, into the heart of communist east Europe, where would the world be today?
It is simple to say that it would have happened anyway. However, I do not believe so. When he went to Poland for his first visit in 1970 for his nine-day pilgrimage, he warned communist authorities that the papacy would be watching them closely. Let us think about this. This is back in the times of the Iron Curtain. These were bold words.
Marxism in eastern Europe was a cult. Communist leaders wanted to eradicate the traditions of history in the name of a new kind of society and to shape a new kind of citizen. When the pope went to Poland, he did not speak only of God. He spoke of history. He spoke of the 600th anniversary of Poland's oldest university. He spoke of the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw uprisings.
This was deliberate. These were powerful words. These were words that inspired people in Poland. It is not a coincidence that a year later, Poles found the courage to stand in solidarity in the first mass anti-communist political movement. They began to organize themselves. Any student of history can look and see what happened next. Freedom came to Poland, and it spread. It spread to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Romania and Bulgaria. The pope gave people confidence, the confidence to stand up.
This is an important legacy. It is why it is beyond his being a religious figure that we should recognize his contributions. Those contributions were not just there. We have heard about many of them from my friend who just spoke and from the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville himself.
Of course, he spoke out very strongly against apartheid in South Africa. He criticized the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti, and he visited. His visit led to protests and the end of a dictatorship. We could go on. We could talk about Chile as well. This was a man whose words inspired. They inspired people to stand up for themselves.
We can also talk about World Youth Day. My colleague talked about that as well. It is not just a celebration of the Catholic faith. He delivered important messages to people. In 2002, when he came to Toronto, he said, “The world you are inheriting is a world which desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity”.
That was his message. His message was to build bridges and come together in unity. It is a message that is so important. His hope of uniting those from diverse backgrounds and beliefs continues to be brought to fruition every time we have a World Youth Day.
I want to conclude with a few remarks.
In June 2004, President George Bush awarded the Pope the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civil honour in America. The citation itself is so important, and it is another reason why I am so proud to stand here today. The citation said “...this son of Poland whose principled stand for peace and freedom has inspired millions and helped to topple communism and tyranny”. I could not have said it better myself.
Pope John Paul II embodied peace, faith, compassion and liberty. That is why I am proud to stand in support of April 2 as Pope John Paul II day here in Canada. I want to thank my colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville for bringing this forward and for giving Canadians an opportunity on that day to reflect on the incredible legacy and the gift we received all across the world from this fantastic man.