Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Pope John Paul II Day Act
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support the private member’s bill put forward by my hon. colleague from Brampton West.
    The bill creating Pope John Paul II Day is truly an important one, as Pope John Paul II was a transforming figure not just in his homeland of Poland but also throughout the world.
     I have to say that it was a great pleasure for me as the chair of Exhibition Place in Toronto and a former city councillor there to play host for the World Youth Day. That was certainly a remarkable gathering of youth from all over the world. It was another initiative that His Holiness Pope John Paul II started during his papacy to bring youth from all over the world together in common prayer and thought, and in action. That event will always stick in my mind, the gathering of youth from different corners of the earth at Exhibition Place and then afterwards followed by a mass and service at Downsview Park.
    I had the pleasure and honour of being there and working along with Father Thomas Rosica who was the CEO of Salt + Light Television, a network that does wonderful work throughout Canada in promoting the Christian, Catholic faith. Father Thomas Rosica played a truly tremendous role in hosting that particular event. I was pleased to work with him.
     Certainly the response from people, regardless of faith, was always truly one of welcoming His Holiness and incredible cherishing of his presence, his magnetism and charisma.
    He was the pope who transformed Europe to what we know today, not just with the fall of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism but also with his the ability to allow his people who had suffered so much to, as he famously said, “Be not afraid”, to be not afraid of totalitarianism, to be not afraid to speak out, to be not afraid to be a light in the darkness. Certainly he was that transformative figure who could inspire people to do amazing things and to be a leader for all.
    Poland, with the Solidarity movement, in which he played such a major role, transformed the rest of what we know in Europe. However, it was his initiative and his imprint that we celebrate worldwide in recognizing this day.
    He was also a man who reached out to people of different faiths. He was the first pope in the history of the Catholic Church to actually visit a synagogue, in Rome. He certainly held the role of Bishop of Rome very dear to his heart and reached out to the people of Rome, like no Pope before him. Being that particular transforming figure, going out to the people of Rome and the people of all faiths, is what makes him one of the most incredible men of the 20th century.
    He was also the first pope to ever visit a mosque. It is, again, a tribute to his understanding and solidarity and friendship with people of different faiths, in extending a warm hand of friendship to all. Again this was important milestone for him as a world leader on stage to say that we want to be friends with everyone of all different faiths. I think it was an important and incredible milestone for us.
    The other thing is that he was a pope who actually took his mission as a shepherd and a preacher of the gospel very seriously. He went to 129 different countries and attracted some of the largest crowds in history, such as five million people once in Manilla in 1985 and, of course, in Toronto there was about 800,000 people. Some estimated the crowd to be close to even a million people attending his event.
     This bill, in recognition of John Paul II Day across Canada, is an important one. It gives credit to someone we consider to be one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century, a man of incredible courage and vision, somebody who transformed the world, who built relationships with countries all over the world and who also played a major role in peace negotiations.
    I was always saddened by the fact that he never won the Nobel Peace Prize, but certainly nobody promoted more peace than John Paul II, not just in Europe but all over the world. I remember the times when there were skirmishes in Latin America. It was always his intervention that saved the day for certain countries in South America and Central America from actually going to war with their neighbours. He played a major role in all of those events.
    Thus we are looking at a man of incredible faith, vision and passion, someone man who deeply cared about the world community. He was a shepherd of peace and a messenger of the gospel.
    As we all know, Pope Benedict XVI has announced that Pope John Paul II will be beatified on May 1, 2011. People from all over the world will gather in Rome to celebrate this momentous event for this incredible man. In the history of the church, this is a very short period of time for somebody to be beatified. The fact he is going to be beatified and become Blessed John Paul II on May 1, 2011, is indicative of the incredible esteem with which he is held and how we all feel about this particular pope whom we really see as a saintly man. He will probably be considered, as I mentioned in this House on his passing, as John Paul the Great because he was one of the greatest popes in the history of Catholicism and, certainly, a transforming individual.
    I am pleased to support the bill. The member for Brampton West has put an incredible amount of work into this and I want to commend him for that. His Polish background speaks also to the fact that he knows, from his ancestors and family members, what an important role John Paul II had in liberating the Polish people. However, at the end of the day, he was really a liberator for all of us, a man of all the people, a man for all seasons, as was said about Saint Thomas Moore. He was an incredible human being who deserves this incredible recognition, because he did transform Canada, the world, and history as we know it.
    As I said before, I was deeply moved when I first saw him. I will never forget that moment in Downsview Park when I took communion from His Holiness. It was a transformative day for me. I remember getting there early in the morning. It was pouring rain, and just as he came out for the mass the sun came out. It was the most beautiful experience ever.
    He was at that time quite frail. He was somebody who was not afraid to show his physical vulnerability and weakness. We always remember the images of him when he first came to Canada in 1984 as someone who was very strong with an incredible physical presence. Later in his life he became quite frail. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses, but he never was afraid to show or accept his own frailty and illnesses, while also showing compassion and care for others.
    He was also a pope who was a transformative figure in the church’s two millennia of history. All of us remember the particular mass he celebrated when the Holy Door was opened to celebrate the second millennium of Christianity in the world. He was the Pope who launched the new millennium. We will always remember him for being probably one of the greatest popes in living memory.
    I am proud to support this bill. I am very pleased that the member for Brampton West has put this bill forward.