Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support Bill C-266, which would establish Pope John Paul II Day.
I am well aware that this is a sensitive topic and opinion is divided when it comes to recognizing the good actions of a religious man of such importance in the Roman Catholic Church.
However, it must be acknowledged that through his social actions, Pope John Paul II touched the hearts of many people of all religious beliefs. We must not forget that he was behind the first international interfaith meeting in Assisi in 1986. On that occasion, he brought together over 190 religious leaders.
John Paul II has been recognized as an ambassador for world peace. He did not hesitate to meet with numerous leaders of various countries, often political opposites, with the aim of promoting dialogue among nations. I cannot fail to mention the fact that John Paul II was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of the important work he did to end Communist oppression in eastern Europe.
I would like the House to consider for a moment the riding I represent, Montcalm. A number of Catholic community organizations are putting all their efforts into building an increasingly caring and vital community. I am thinking of Clarence Thériault, grand knight of the Knights of Columbus in Sainte-Julienne, who talks openly about his Catholic religion and is proud of his work with the Fabrique de Sainte-Julienne.
The religious communities that have been here for generations have a very proud history in this country. I need only think of the sisters of Horeb Saint-Jacques, like Sr. Carmelle and Sr. Jeannine, and the fine work done by Diane Lafontaine, a woman committed to justice and service, and all of the others who devote their time and energy to working for no material gain.
I would also like to mention a friend of the family, Paul Léveillé, the priest in charge of the parishes of Sainte-Marie-Salomé, Saint-Jacques, Saint-Liguori, Saint-Alexis and L'Épiphanie. Paul has been a friend for many years. In fact, he will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his life as a priest this year. If you are watching, Paul, congratulations. I have to say that Paul is a mainstay, not just for practising individuals, but also for young people.
My husband and I occasionally attend Sunday services and have the opportunity to meet older people who live in the riding of Montcalm. Even today, those people still have an enormous amount of affection for the man they describe as a uniting force, a very generous man who was close to the people. When I hear about Pope John Paul II, I inevitably think of the good people whom I have met in my community and in my life and who know this historic figure and have great respect for his good and altruistic works.
When we talk to people of the previous generation, they tell us that Pope John Paul II was their Pope, the one who was extremely involved in public life and who left an indelible mark on every major event in the late 20th century.
The role he played in putting an end to the racist government of South Africa and in bringing down the iron curtain in eastern Europe is well known. In addition, Pope John Paul II, who was born in Poland, was an important figure in the fall of Communism in his home country. He is loved and highly respected by the Polish and Catholic communities.
The role he played in ending the military regimes in Latin America and his opposition to the war in Iraq gave him political importance. His interest in extending a hand to groups that the church had harmed in the past also gave him a significant amount of social importance.
Just before he died, there was great pain throughout the Catholic community and an equal reaction among non-Catholics. He was, at the time, an almost permanent fixture in world affairs and in Catholics' minds.
He was a good man, it must be said, but a complex one. He was an important player on the world stage. He was important to the people of Montcalm and to those of Mississauga East—Cooksville.
Pope John Paul II is an important figure in the history of the 20th century.
His presence, like that of many historical figures, could draw praise as well as criticism. I would prefer my remarks to be positive and therefore I choose to focus on the praise. Although probably better known for his role in connection with the Solidarity union in Poland and for the fall of the iron curtain in eastern Europe, he was also an important player in the fall of the military dictatorships in Chile and Paraguay and the racist government of South Africa.
Sometimes it is difficult to understand why it is important to strive for a better future and fight for the change that has to happen before that future can be achieved. Pope John Paul II truly understood that an inclusive democracy was the key to a better future. What is more, unlike the current government, he immediately opposed the war in Iraq. He said: “War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.”
This is the same person who refused to fire his rifle during his mandatory military service in Poland. Furthermore, unlike our current government, he believed in basic science, evolution and climate change.
In the message he gave on World Peace Day, he said:
The ecological crisis reveals the urgent moral need for a new solidarity, especially in relations between the developing nations and those that are highly industrialized.
He also added, “I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”
Pope John Paul II also had a special relationship with Canada. He visited our country on several occasions, including in 2002, when over 500,000 young people gathered in a Toronto park for World Youth Day, which is commonly known as WYD. Pope John Paul II created WYD to encourage young people to participate in community development.
It is sometimes difficult to understand the actions of a person who, in all honestly, had very little power. He did not have a tank or a plane; yet he refused to use the only weapon he was given because he firmly believed that respect for human life is paramount. His actions had a profound impact on people from all walks of life, from all countries and from all religions. His time as Pope, which was marked by open-mindedness and co-operation with other religions, was anchored in tradition and a strong cultural attachment.
However, we can say that in many ways his struggle mirrored that of our party, the NDP. My colleagues will understand why I say this. During a visit to Haiti in 1983, he spoke to Haitian Christians about the importance of democratic accountability and freedom, in addition to addressing Duvalier's corrupt government. He talked to the crowd about a series of policy issues that could have been taken from an NDP policy book. These issues included having the opportunity to get enough food, receive proper care, find safe housing, go to school and find an interesting and well-paid job. In short, he talked about everything that provides a better quality of life for men and women, youth, the elderly and workers.
I would like to ask my colleagues on the other side of the House to vote in line with us when we put these policies on the table. I would also ask them to stop being so closed-minded.
Pope John Paul II was a symbol of freedom and change. He was recognized for his humility when he publicly apologized for the role the church played in more than 100 historical wrongs.
I truly believe that John Paul II deserves a day that not only celebrates his work as a religious and spiritual man, but also celebrates this great man who had but one mission and one vision: to ensure that universal peace reigns in the hearts of all nations.
To conclude, I will just reiterate that Pope John Paul II is an important figure in Roman Catholic history. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2004 and spoke out against oppressive measures in eastern Europe and many other countries. Pope John Paul II was committed to peace and dialogue between different religions.
For all these reasons, I will support this bill.