Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Pope John Paul II Day Act
    Madam Speaker, I am honoured to join the debate today to support my colleague from Brampton West who presented the motion.
    I am proud to do so for a number of reasons, the first one being that I am Polish Canadian and, I believe, one of the first female Polish Canadian members of Parliament this House has seen. Therefore, I am very proud to stand and represent the Polish community and support Pope John Paul II, our pope.
    Second, of course, is that I am a practising Roman Catholic and it is important that I stand up for the Roman Catholics in Canada.
    It is important legislation that would celebrate the memory of Pope John Paul II day every April 2 on the anniversary of his death. He was beloved not only in Poland but internationally, in Canada and abroad, everywhere that he travelled. He was one of our most travelled popes.
    Why do we designate days to celebrate the memory of great people such as John Paul II? We do it to acknowledge their significant accomplishments and their historical contributions to our country as well as to larger historical events.
    He was a great man. Not only was he a scholar, he was a philosopher. He came from simple, humble beginnings in Poland as a priest and before that as an actor and a teacher. He was a charismatic and moral leader to, not only the Catholic community across the world, but to everyone.
     Pope John Paul II reigned for 27 years, one of the longest reigns of any pope. He also was one of the youngest popes of the 20th century.
    There are a number of reasons we should support the bill, many due to his great achievements. He was one of the architects of the defeat of Communism. He was one of the leaders of the solidarity movement, a very significant historical event, particularly to the Polish people. He is and remains a hero. He was the first non-Italian pope since the 15th century. There are over one million Polish Canadians in Canada who would celebrate this day each and every year.
    He was a very accomplished pope. He had a large following of supporters and travelled around the world. He completed over 102 pastoral visits outside of Italy.
    The pope first visited Canada in 1984 and had visited three times since. He came in 2002 on World Youth Day. I myself billeted a number of youth who came from the former eastern Europe to celebrate this day. Young people from all parts of the world gathered for World Youth Day at the Downsview Centre in Toronto. With their gifts of intelligence and heart, they represented the future of the world but they also bear the marks of humanity and that, too, often knows and understands peace and justice.
    The pope said at that time, “Too many lives begin and end without joy and without hope.” However, he proved that there was hope in this world. That was one of the principal reasons for World Youth Day.
    He spoke to us directly as Canadians. Canadians are heirs to an extraordinary, rich humanism, enriched even more by a blend of different cultural elements. However, the core of our heritage is the spiritual and transcendent vision of life based on Christian revelation, which gave vital impetus to our development as a free, democratic and caring society recognized throughout the world as the champions of human rights and human dignity.
    I was astounded at how proud the youth were who attended World Youth Day, proud to be Catholics and proud to be there celebrating the pope who value the contributions that youth had made.
    One of the other reasons of course was that the pope sought reconciliation for the Jewish community and opened a dialogue with many other faiths.
    Those are some of the key reasons that I believe we should support John Paul II day. I hope there are other members of the House who will reach out and encourage all members to support this very important bill as well.
    the Ontario legislature introduced a similar type of bill to honour Pope John Paul II. It had been introduced and had passed first and second reading but, unfortunately, died during prorogation. We are attempting to bring back this honour for Pope John Paul II for not only Ontarians but for all Canadians so that we can all celebrate.
    In addition, I have attempted to described this man who has done great work. He has been recognized not only among his peers, Canadians and everyone across the world, but people in the church have extended to him the title of Venerable. Pope Benedict has placed this title upon him, which is one step toward sainthood. One step will be completed later this year. It is a two year process but it has been expedited so that this great glory will be placed upon our beloved pope.
    As I mentioned earlier, he is one of the great reasons that communism had fallen non-violently in the Soviet Union. Quite unbelievably, the Soviet Union fell and communism fell without a single bullet being fired. Pope John Paul’s 1979 trip to Poland was described as the fulcrum of revolution that led to the collapse of communism. As Timothy Ash put it, ”without the pope, no solidarity, without solidarity, no Gorbachev, without Gorbachev, no fall of communism”. Even Mikhail Gorbachev said that it would have been impossible without the pope. He credits John Paul II for being a key factor in the fall of the Soviet Union.
    My very humble roots, as I described, also come form Poland. My family left Poland because of the scourge of communism and sought work and refuge in France. My grandfather served in a Polish division of the French army to fight against Hitler and did not return to Poland because of the rise of communism in the Eastern European Bloc. One of the major reasons we came to Canada was to seek freedom, and we have Pope John Paul II to thank for the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
    Another major accomplishment of the pope, with which nobody will disagree, was provide a bridge to bring in other religions. In 2003, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement congratulating Pope John Paul II on entering his 25th year of the papacy and complimenting him on his role in bridging the divide between the Jewish faith and the Catholic Church. It said, “More change for the better took place in his 27-year papacy than in the nearly 2,000 years before”.
    There are many other examples of that as well, many attempts to make a bridge to many other faith communities, especially with Muslim community. When Pope John Paul was in Casa Blanca August 19, 1985 in Morocco, he said:
    Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. For us, Abraham is a very model of faith in God, of submission to his will and of confidence in his goodness. We believe in the sane God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.
     He reached out to the Muslim community when he was pope and he reached out to the Jewish community as well. He reached out to many communities. We know that in 1993 he held a meeting with over 120 religious leaders from around the world of different religions and different Christian denominations to foster some unity and respect among the various religious sects.
    He was a well travelled man and a remarkable world leader. He was known as the travelling pope. He visited 129 countries and attracted some of the largest crowds in human history. As many as five million people came to see him in Manila in 1995. He came to Canada on more than one occasion. When he came in 2002 on World Youth Day, over 800,000 people came out to meet him and to pray with him. As Kofi Annan had said, “he is a tireless advocate for peace”.
    When Pope John Paul II died, the outpouring of grief at his funeral showed how strong he was and how respected he was, both as a religious leader and, more important, as a world leader. At his funeral and his requiem mass on April 8, 2005, he was said to have set world records for both attendance and the number of heads of state who were present at the funeral. It was the single largest gathering of heads of state in history, surpassing the funerals of Winston Churchill and other world leaders. Kings, queens and leaders of many countries were in attendance. It was one of the largest single pilgrimages of the time.
    For this reason, and because of the great man he was, I hope everyone will join me and my colleague from Brampton West in supporting the bill to commemorate Pope John Paul II day.