Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today on this bill. It is an important bill for a lot of reasons.
Before I begin, I would like to recognize the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville for bringing this bill forward in the House. He is a gentleman who has a very important success story, and he is one of those people Canada seems to attract.
The member for Mississauga East—Cooksville was born in Poland. He lived under a Communist dictatorship and understood how hard life was. He wanted to do something better to support his family. He came to Canada and built a better life for his family. Ultimately, living the Canadian dream, he has now been elected to the Canadian House of Commons and is able to give back and contribute to his community.
He is doing spectacular work here, and this bill is just another indication of it. How nice it must be for the people in Mississauga East—Cooksville to have a member of Parliament who brings forward their issues and has finally restored that community to some excellent representation. I want to congratulate him for bringing this bill forward, because it is so important that we talk about this extraordinary person, Pope John Paul II.
I was a student in Scarborough in 1984 in the second class of Pope John Paul II Catholic school. The year 1984 was a very interesting time, because I believe it was the Pope's first visit to Canada. It was an extraordinary time for us students as we got to wait in line in the procession as the Popemobile came by. I can remember all of the people being there in downtown Toronto, waiting to see the Pope for just a split second as he drove by in the Popemobile. It was not just Catholics; hundreds of thousands of people were waiting to catch a glimpse of this person. At this point, we did not really know how important this pope would be, not only to those of us of Catholic faith but in changing the world as we know it.
I already mentioned how the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville endured a Communist dictatorship and how he was able to make a better life for himself, but I would also like to talk about my French teacher in my riding.
He is a Polish immigrant who came to Canada two years ago. We have been talking a lot of about how he grew up, the life he led under a Communist dictatorship and how important the Pope was in helping them break free. We talked about how important the Pope was in helping the Polish people understand that they had freedom and could aspire to be better than they were. His stories of the importance of the Pope in helping Poland come out of Communism are very inspiring to me. It is another reason I am glad to have this opportunity today to talk about this bill.
A lot of speakers have already talked about all of the accomplishments of Pope John Paul II, but I think it bears repeating.
We know that Pope John Paul II led a difficult life. His mother and father died when he was quite young, and his brother thereafter. He lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland. During that time he started to understand and feel the call toward the priesthood. He was educated in secret, from what I understand, and was ultimately ordained in 1946. Despite being in a Communist dictatorship and despite all the challenges he faced, he was able to grow the faith in Poland. He was always able to grow the faith and give people the inspiration they needed while balancing what was obviously a very difficult government and a very difficult circumstance for the Polish people.
I remember being a young boy when the first Pope John Paul unfortunately passed away shortly after he became pope. It was a time when Catholics were very uncertain. I think the first Pope John Paul had a 30-day reign, and I remember watching for many hours as we waited to see who the next pope would be.
Being of Italian-Canadian descent, we assumed that the person who would be coming out would be another Italian pope, because that is just the way it had been for 400 years. I remember being in my home with an uncle who had come to Canada in the 1950s. He was a very proud Canadian but also a very proud Italian. I remember seeing his reaction to seeing someone who was not an Italian come through those doors and that momentary disappointment that the next pope was going to be Polish and not Italian.
I tell this story because many years later, I was sitting with this very same uncle watching a mass when the Pope was much later on in years and struggling to carry on his duties. I listened to my uncle explain how this Italian pope had made such a difference in the world. I reminded him that the Pope was Polish and not Italian. He said, “That all changed over the years. He has now become a very proud Italian pope.” That speaks volumes of how this pope was able to cross all kinds of boundaries.
The 1980s and 1990s were a difficult time period in world history. We were growing up at a time when there was a great deal of uncertainty. We still had east versus west, and much of the world and eastern Europe was under a Communist dictatorship. It was a time when the west was afraid of the east and the east was afraid of the west, but here was a pope who was not afraid to break down those barriers, who was not afraid to take on the Communist dictators of the east, because he understood how important it was and how important his role was to bring freedom to the world.
If we look back, despite all the incredible things that he did for Catholics and to help expand the Catholic faith, no matter what one believes, I think we all would agree that Pope John Paul II made a significant difference in changing the world because he was not afraid. During the Second World War, he was not afraid to struggle and fight for what he believed in. He became a priest despite Nazi occupation, after having understood all the difficulties that dictatorship and lack of responsible government meant to the people and how it was bringing the people down. He struggled and persevered, and when he had the opportunity when he became the pope, he made sure that he was going to make a difference.
No matter what one believes, we can all agree that this gentleman made an incredible difference in the world. I cannot thank my hon. friend from Mississauga East—Cooksville enough for bringing this bill forward so that we could take one day to recognize and honour how hard this person worked, the difference he made and, ultimately, the changes he made to help bring democracy throughout the world. We still have a long way to go, but if it were not for this person's example, for his leadership, for the strength of the Polish people who seized on the opportunity to break free, we would have a much different world today.
I am very excited to be able to support the member's bill. I want to again single out the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville. He is someone who can make a heck of a difference for all immigrants who come to this country who work hard and struggle the way my parents did.
I look at the example of my parents, and it is sad that neither of my parents was able to see me elected. They did not live long enough to see me elected to the House of Commons, but I look across the aisle and see people like the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville making a difference and becoming elected and bringing bills like this forward. I congratulate him, and I congratulate his constituents for having such an incredible member of Parliament.