Pope John Paul II Day Act
Madam Speaker, I am honoured to be here today to further our discussion in support of Bill C-573 to designate April 2 of each year as Pope John Paul II Day.
Pope John Paul II was a remarkable man who was influential not only in the Catholic church but also in the global environment. During his 27 years as the Pope, he was an important advocate of interfaith dialogue, tolerance and co-operation.
In 1986, Pope John Paul II led a multifaith service with other leaders of the world’s religions. This led to other interfaith services all over the world and to yearly interfaith prayers on the annual feast of Saint Francis.
In 1994, the Pope gave the inaugural address at the World Conference on Religion and Peace.
In January 2002, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, he convened a multifaith service that united 200 religious leaders from all over the globe. From this service, the leaders pledged that religion must never again be used to justify violence.
There are various other examples of the Pope’s work on the world stage, where he served as a bridge-builder between cultures and religions.
I would like to talk about another important role he undertook, a role that Canadians recognize and applaud: his fight against oppression. Pope John Paul II was a man who fought oppression wherever and whenever he saw it. He was a man who understood from experience what happens to a person during the terror of war and the imposition of a totalitarian regime.
As a youth, Pope John Paul II was an athlete and an intellectual. He lived in a community with people of all different faiths, where he and his Jewish neighbours played football together. He enrolled in university at the age of 18. However, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the university was closed shortly afterward and all able-bodied young men were forced into manual work. His call to priesthood came soon afterwards.
During his time as a priest, his compassion was evident when he helped a young Jewish refugee who had run away from a Nazi labour camp. She had collapsed on a railway platform and the young priest carried her onto the train and accompanied her to safety in Krakow. Many Polish Jews have said he was instrumental in protecting them and their families.
In 1978, when he was pope, he addressed the UN General Assembly and called on the world to fight for human rights. Not content with words alone, he went on a nine-day pilgrimage back to communist Poland. This trip ultimately led to many changes in that country: for the advocacy of and fight for freedom, for compassion and the offering of protection.
These are qualities that we Canadians believe in, as well. As a country that is defined by its bilingual, pluralist nature, we believe in freedom and we have fought to protect it.
Canadians also understand the importance of compassion. They know that compassion is nothing without action to back it up, the same type of action that we can see of Pope John Paul II.
During the fight for Vimy Ridge in World War I, 3,598 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. We fought for freedom and we came together as a nation.
Canadians continued their fight for freedom through World War II right through to today, when our gallant men and women are fighting to bring freedom and human rights to the people of Afghanistan, especially the women and girls.
However, just like Pope John Paul II, we not only fight for freedom but also to protect those who are seeking to find freedom. Canada is proud to have a long humanitarian tradition of being a place of refuge and protection for victims of violence, persecution and conflict. The fight to protect freedom is a tradition that Canada has proudly maintained.
Through the periods of high immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Canada received hundreds of thousands of refugees from the oppression and terror behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains, as well as from many other totalitarian and communist regimes.
In 1956, 40,000 Hungarians fled the soviet invasion of their country and found a safe, new beginning in Canada. In 1968, Canada welcomed thousands who fled the Soviet invasion of Prague. In 1979, when millions of Indochinese boat people had to flee oppression, they went through the United Nations and obtained refugee status. The UN called for help and Canada responded. Approximately 65,000 came to Canada.
Through the generosity of Canadian faith groups, doors were opened and newcomers were settled in Canada, and they continued to contribute to the cultural and economic life of our country.
One of our former prime ministers, John Diefenbaker, stated:
I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country.
As Mr. Diefenbaker added in his speech 50 years ago:
This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind
Canadians, just like John Paul II, are compassionate people who care about freedom and human rights. As a man many Canadians honour, admire and try to emulate, let us set aside a special day to honour and consider Pope John Paul II and his works.