Pope John Paul II Day Bill Second Reading-Debate Continued


Bill C-266, An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day Senator Jane Cordy January 30th, 2014

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Fortin-Duplessis, seconded by the Honourable Senator Poirier, for the second reading of Bill C-266, An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day.

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-266, an Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day. This bill sets out to mark April 2 of each year on the Canadian calendar as a day to celebrate the life and many achievements of Karol Józef Wojtyla or, as he is now known, Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II led the Catholic Church from 1978 until his death on April 2, 2005. At just over 26 years, he was the second- longest serving pope in the history of the Catholic Church and, for a whole generation of Catholics, the only pope they ever knew.

His influence on the world's Catholic youth cannot be overstated. His focus and active engagement of youth is his great legacy. He was affectionately known as "Wujek," or uncle, in his early life in the priesthood, a nickname that stuck with him his entire life. He was born in the Polish town of Wadowice in 1920 and, by the time Karol was 20, he was the only surviving member of his immediate family. He attributed the death of his father as the moment when he seriously began thinking of joining the priesthood.

In 1942, during the German occupation of Poland, Karol began his studies in an underground seminary in Krakow. After the Germans fled Poland in 1944, he helped to rebuild the Krakow seminary. He was officially ordained in Krakow in 1946.

Between 1946 and 1958, Father Wojtyla served the church in Rome and performed pastoral duties in Poland. In 1958, he was appointed bishop and was the youngest bishop in Poland, at the age of 38. Six years later, Bishop Wojtyla was appointed archbishop. In August 1978, after three days of elections, Karol Wojtyla was elected pope and adopted the name Pope John Paul II in a gesture to his predecessor Pope John Paul I.

During his time as Pope, John Paul II was faced with challenges that put his leadership qualities to the test. These events would change the face of the world and forge John Paul II into a respected world leader. He was not just a religious leader, but he also played a major role as an agent of change in the geopolitical landscape of the quarter century when he was pope.

During his 26 years as pope, the world witnessed the escalating Cold War of the 1980s between the Western nations and the Soviet Union; the oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa; and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Pope John Paul II remained a force for peace and a voice against oppression during these times.

Historians and supporters frequently point to his opposition to communist rule in Europe, particularly in Poland, his homeland, as his greatest contribution to the world. There are many people in those formerly communist-ruled countries who would agree with this statement, I am sure. It is noted that his spiritual support was a key motivating factor in the organized, non-violent opposition to communist rule in Poland. The political change in Poland had a domino effect that, once felled, ultimately led to the eradication of communist rule in Europe.

A year after being elected Pope, John Paul II made his first official pilgrimage to Poland as Pope. During this visit, he defied the communist regime with messages advocating freedom and human rights while denouncing violence. His simple message of "Do not be afraid" resonated with the millions of his countrymen who attended his masses. His message became a uniting force for the political movement that followed. This initial trip to Poland by Pope John Paul II is credited by many as the catalyst that set in motion the events that would see the peaceful end of communist rule in Poland and, ultimately, all of Europe.

A few years ago, when I was in Warsaw, I drove down Pope John Paul II Boulevard and everywhere I went in the city the people spoke of Pope John Paul II with great love and admiration. During the time of German-occupied Poland, John Paul II witnessed many of his Jewish childhood friends and their families being taken away. He helped to hide others and he, himself, at one point, as a Catholic seminarian, had to hide from the Germans. These experiences shaped his beliefs and opposition to tyrannical, oppressive rule and also shaped his devotion to healing relations between faiths.

As Pope, John Paul II improved relations between the Catholic Church and many world faiths, in particular with the Jewish and Islamic faiths.

Pope John Paul II became the first Catholic pope to enter and pray in a mosque. He was the first pope to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp. He became the first pope known to have made an official papal visit to a synagogue and established formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel. His message was always one of forgiveness and love, and a celebration of commonalities rather than differences.

His efforts did not go unappreciated. After his death, the Anti- Defamation League made the statement that Pope John Paul II had revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations and that "more change for the better took place in his 27-year Papacy than in the nearly 2,000 years before."

As he was a witness to the atrocities of war during World War II and the evils of Communist rule in Poland, it is not hard to understand why John Paul II dedicated his life to peace, interfaith understanding and change through non-violent means. The fact that he spoke a dozen languages was a great tool for connecting with people all over the world. He served as a guiding light for change. His deep compassion for his congregation fostered devotion and love, and it is easy to understand why he was, and still is, an inspiration to many.

This devotion was probably felt most strongly among the Catholic youth of the world. If his role in the fall of Communist rule in Europe and his interfaith relations are his legacies to the world, then his devotion to youth is his legacy to the Catholic

Church. John Paul made engaging the youth of the world a priority for the Catholic Church. It is not too cliché to say that the future belongs to today's youth, and John Paul II made recognizing this a priority for the Church. He believed that connecting with youth and instilling in them the teachings of God and filling their hearts with love and understanding would help to ensure positive change in the world.

As pope, he created World Youth Day, an annual celebration for Catholic youth. Every two to three years the church continues to organize an international World Youth Day event, which has attracted millions of young people. World Youth Day attracted an estimated 5 million youth in 1995 in Manila, Philippines. Toronto hosted the event in 2002 where nearly 800,000 attended mass at Downsview Park. It is clear that today's youth want to be engaged and have a voice. John Paul's initiative to create World Youth Day has provided Catholic youth with the opportunity to celebrate and to let their voices be heard.

To connect with so many people requires getting out and meeting with people. It would have been impossible to have the impact John Paul had on the world if he had stayed in the Vatican. But John Paul did get out there and in a big way. He became the most travelled pope in history and made visits to places no pope had ever been. Many of these visits were to places where the Catholic Church has historically not been welcome. But in his mission to bridge religious divides and to begin healing religious relations he boldly took on the challenge, even if it meant that he alienated Catholic traditionalists.

Because he was the most travelled pope in history, many Catholics living all over the world had a chance at some point to attend a service with him without having to travel to the Vatican. I remember his 1984 visit to Canada and particularly his time spent in Atlantic Canada. Nearly 80,000 people attended mass in the Halifax Common in Nova Scotia. The love and warmth he had for his congregation was easy to see that day, and that affection was returned in kind. It was very moving, and I know that this feeling was shared by millions around the world.

I know that several concerns were raised in the other place about the idea of observing a day dedicated to a religious leader and whether this crosses the line with the ideas of separation of church and state. Questions were raised about whether Canadians of other faiths may feel slighted or feel deserving of dedicated days representative of their faiths. These questions may be best answered when this bill is examined in committee.

My belief is that this piece of legislation is a testament to the achievements of a man shaped by war and tyranny, who, by the grace of God, found his calling in the priesthood and who ultimately evolved into a world leader and an agent for peaceful, positive change in the world. The achievements emphasized in the text of Bill C-266 focus on his actions to topple oppressive regimes and instill democratic change. These actions benefited peoples of all religious beliefs within those countries, not just Catholics. His ability to reach out to other faiths helped to spread a message of peace and understanding.

As a global leader dedicated to peace and non-violence, Pope John Paul II was an agent for positive change the world over. From Communist Europe to apartheid South Africa to post-9/11 religious tensions, his message was always the same: peace, justice and respect for human rights. I look forward to examining Bill C-266 in committee.