Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak today about Bill C-573 that seeks to designate April 2 of each year as Pope John Paul II Day.
Pope John Paul II had influence that extended well beyond the doors of the church. He was revered and admired by people of many different faiths, and the impact of his actions is still being felt around the world.
During his lifetime, John Paul II worked to further understanding and co-operation among people of different faiths. His legacy is a new global movement of interfaith dialogue. People of different religions are focusing on the values they have in common while forging new ties and lasting relationships.
In his years as pope, he visited 129 countries and redefined the papacy for a modern age. Three of those trips were taken here to Canada. He was in fact the first pope to visit Canada, and one of his many gifts was his ability to reach out to people of other faiths and inspire reconciliation after centuries of hostility and suspicion.
Pope John Paul II was a man of action as well as a man of words. He was the first pope to enter a Jewish synagogue. He was the first pope to enter a mosque. He initiated and participated in many events and conferences and promoted a message of peace and harmony among different religions.
In October 1986, the pope convened and led a multifaith service involving leaders of the world's religions. During this conference he said:
I wish to make an earnest call to everyone, Christians and the followers of other religions, that we all work together to build a world without violence, a world that loves life, and grows in solidarity and justice.
The event led to interfaith activities all over the world and to yearly interfaith prayer on the annual feast of Saint Francis.
In 1994, the pope gave the inaugural address at the World Conference on Religion and Peace, an organization led by a UN-accredited global movement dedicated to co-operation among the world's religions for peace, all the while maintaining respect for the religious differences contained within this group.
In January 2002, following the terror attacks of 9/11, Pope John Paul II convened a multifaith service that united 200 religious leaders from all over the globe so that we could have a day of prayer for the world in crisis. During that day-long retreat, these leaders agreed on a joint 10-point pledge that proclaims that religion must never be used again to justify violence on this planet.
These are only a few examples of his efforts for interfaith dialogue. His ground-breaking overtures towards other world religions were unprecedented. Complemented by his efforts to achieve unity among Christian denominations, these efforts have spawned a variety of organizations that promote further dialogue and common action.
On the world stage, Pope John Paul II was a diplomat of peace and a supporter of diversity. Canada continues to build an inclusive society that values differences and fosters a sense of belonging. Pope John Paul II lived by and advocated these same principles that we treasure in Canada.
Pope John Paul II made a lasting impact on our country. During the first of his three official visits, in 1984, he made a 12-day pilgrimage across Canada. He visited eight provinces, and this tour was the longest he made to any single country on the planet.
His second visit to Canada was in 1987. The primary purpose for this visit was to fulfill a promise he made to visit Fort Simpson, a remote community, showing that he cared not only about large historic cities but also about small villages where the common people live.
The pope's third visit to Canada was in 2002, when he attended the 17th World Youth Day festivities in Toronto. World Youth Day assembled more than 350,000 pilgrims from across the globe to Canada. The concluding outdoor mass in Downsview, Ontario, attracted one of the largest gatherings in Canadian history. The crowd numbered more than 800,000 people. The response of the young people was full of enthusiasm, love and respect for the man and the office. This would be the last time that Pope John Paul II attended World Youth Day events.
Throughout the pope's travels, people were very taken by the man himself, for this man exuded warmth and a generosity of spirit and he was genuinely concerned for all people on this planet.
The world's reaction to his death is a strong indication of the esteem in which he was held and how he reached people from all religions and backgrounds.
Upon his death, Pope John Paul II was mourned by people around the world, and it is estimated that two million people made the pilgrimage to Vatican City to pay their respects. From presidents and prime ministers to kings and queens, dignitaries from 138 countries were present at his funeral. This is a true testament to the pope's global impact and reach.
Another testament to his global impact is the presence of many national and municipal public projects, airports, parks, squares, schools, roads and avenues that are all named in his honour. There is even a peninsula in Antarctica that is named after Pope John Paul II for his contribution to world peace and understanding among people.
We are very fortunate that in this country Canadians of all faiths are encouraged to follow the religious practices of their own choosing. We are a country of many faiths. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and many others are free to celebrate their holy days without fear of persecution. Our calendar reflects many of these holidays. Days like Good Friday, Easter Monday and Christmas Day are statutory holidays. But in more recent years here in Canada, other faith holidays like the month of Ramadan, the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the festival of Diwali in the Sikh and Hindu faiths are now recognized and observed by an ever-expanding number of Canadians.
Declaring Pope John Paul II Day in Canada would recognize a leader who advocated understanding and acceptance of people of all faiths and backgrounds, a man who initiated a global movement of interfaith dialogue, who had a lasting impact on Canada and the rest of the world, and a man whose message mirrors Canada's own experiences with diversity, both cultural and ethnic.
Canada has a history of recognizing outstanding world leaders. Raoul Wallenberg, who was instrumental in ensuring the safety of more than 100,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, was granted a special day of recognition and was also granted honorary citizenship.
Honorary citizenship has also been granted to other world leaders, including Nelson Mandela and Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. In 2007, Aung San Suu Kyi, while still under house arrest, was awarded honorary citizenship for her fight for democracy in Burma. On November 13, 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was released after 7.5 years of house arrest. Upon her release, her message to her followers was not one of revenge. It was one seeking national reconciliation. She embodies the same values that Canada promotes and, much like John Paul II, she is a world leader who advocates non-violence and equality for all.
By recognizing Pope John Paul II Day, we can encourage Canadians across this great nation to embrace diversity, respect people of other faiths and celebrate what truly unites us as Canadians.