Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand and support this bill. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the House for their contributions to the debate. If John Paul II were in this room or watching this debate, he would have respected very much the previous speaker's speech from the official opposition. Why he would respect it and support her opinion in this matter is because this is the consummate democratic place. He was devoted to a place like this that exists on the face of God's good earth. He would have supported this place because it is a democratic institution and he knew what it was like to live in an institution such as this where people could not have differences of opinion. It is for that reason that I think he would be proud.
He probably would ask us not to have a day just for him, but he is not here. However, we care very much about this man of tremendous faith, who put his arms around the very people who would have in the past not put their arms around him except to put them in chains. He was a humble man. Those of us who support this day are here and able to say for him, because we know he is watching from a better place, that we are prepared to do this as we feel in our bones that we must do it.
I want to congratulate my colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville for bringing the bill forward that would designate April 2 as Pope John Paul II day in Canada.
As the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville mentioned, Pope John Paul II's work transcended the boundaries of the Catholic faith. He promoted values of peace, tolerance and religious freedom. He took a strong stand against human rights violations and respected and showed admiration for other religions. On John Paul II's passing, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated:
Quite apart from his role as a spiritual guide to more than a billion men, women and children, he was a tireless advocate of peace, a true pioneer in interfaith dialogue and a strong force for critical self-evaluation by the Church itself.
This self-evaluation led him to work to redress historical wrongs and ask forgiveness from the Jews for sins committed by the church. As a powerful example, on a visit to the Western Wall in 2000, he offered a prayer saying:
—we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.
John Paul II was the first pope to visit a synagogue in 1986 where he declared "each of our religions" wishes "to be recognized and respected in its own identity," beyond "any ambiguous appropriation." His strong messages to encourage inter-religious dialogue and freedom of speech are characteristics that, I will say so respectfully, John Paul II shared with this government. Not only did he believe that each of us should be able to worship as we please, but also that we should be able to worship differently and still co-operate and work together.
As my colleague stated, as a nation, Canada is recognized as a world leader in the promotion of international human rights. It is a defining characteristic of our foreign policy. John Paul II, too, made this a priority during his papacy. He was a man of courage and compassion. He did not believe that the fight for democracy was beyond our reach. His efforts impacted global politics and he inspired peaceful opposition to repressive regimes, eventually leading to the collapse of several stifling dictatorships.
In 1987, he met and pushed the dictator Augusto Pinochet to accept the return of democracy in Chile. In 1988, John Paul II visited Paraguay, which led to the collapse of the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner.
Pope John Paul II's role in the spread of democracy in eastern Europe was profound. He himself endured the tyrannies of the Nazi and then communist regimes as he was only 19 when the Nazis invaded Poland.
In his 1979 visit to Poland, he said, “Be not afraid.” His simple words to encourage and inspire the people led to the peaceful opposition that can be said to have precipitated the fall of communism in Poland and the spread of democracy in all of Europe.
In the 1995 address to the UN, John Paul II touched on his experiences in the peaceful opposition he supported by saying:
The moral dynamics of this universal quest for freedom clearly appeared in Central and Eastern Europe during the non-violent revolutions of 1989. Unfolding in specific times and places, those historical events nonetheless taught a lesson which goes far beyond a specific geographical location. For the non-violent revolutions of 1989 demonstrated that the quest for freedom cannot be suppressed. It arises from a recognition of the inestimable dignity and value of the human person, and it cannot fail to be accompanied by a commitment on behalf of the human person.
Further to this, he played a large role in the collapse of communism. John Paul II himself endured Nazism and Communism, and devoted much time speaking out against such oppression and human rights violations. From Haiti to Poland, and around the globe, the visits from John Paul II foreshadowed the collapse of dictatorships and the end of oppression. Wherever he went, wherever he landed, peace and democracy followed.
We as Canadians should be proud of him for doing this, as the endorsement of democracy is, and has been for centuries, a strong belief in Canadian values. Canada is a nation built on a number of fundamental freedoms. These freedoms and values are part of what make our country such an attractive place for people to immigrate to. One of these core Canadian freedoms is the freedom of religion. In every region of this country, we have a multitude of people practising a multitude of faiths, and they are able to do so in peace without cause or incident.
However, we are fortunate, as in certain regions across the globe religious minorities are the subject of violence, oppression and hatred, which is why our government recently unveiled its Office of Religious Freedom. Working within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, this office will oppose religious hatred and encourage the protection of religious minorities around the world so that those people too can practise their faiths without fear of repression. These nations are often a source of instability and civil strife, and combatting these qualities by protecting an individual's right to practise his or her religion is something which deserves to be championed. I believe that the work of John Paul II to promote inter-religious dialogue, and his acceptance and appreciation for other faiths and religions is such an important part of his legacy and something all Canadians can admire and appreciate, as religious freedom is a strong principle in our foreign policy. He once said:
Instead of marveling at the fact that Providence allows such a great variety of religions, we should be amazed at the number of common elements found within them.
As Canadians, we have a special connection with John Paul II, as he made three separate visits to our country, the latest being in 2002 at World Youth Day in Toronto. His message of acceptance, diversity, and equality is reflected in our Canadian values and multicultural landscape. As Canadians, we incorporate these values in our daily lives. John Paul II not only transcended the boundaries of faith, but he also sought to bridge generational gaps and invest in our future by fostering the values of compassion and tolerance in our youth, which is why in 1985 he established World Youth Day.
His visit to Toronto in 2002 attracted hundreds of thousands of youth, representing all faiths and cultures from around the world, who made the pilgrimage to Canada, uniting in one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world, just to hear him speak. Not only did he garner the attention of a multitude of religions, he was able to catch the attention of a young audience.
Much like Canadians, John Paul II did not believe that religious differences should instigate conflict. Rather, they should unite all people and celebrate our diversity.
I support the designation of April 2 as Pope John Paul II Day in Canada. I would like to thank my colleague, the member of Parliament for Mississauga East—Cooksville, for bringing this bill before the House. I would like to thank him for giving us an opportunity to celebrate and to reflect on a man who brought hope, peace and comfort to so many around the world.