Pope John Paul II Day Bill Third Reading-Debate Continued


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

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Fortin-Duplessis, seconded by the Honourable Senator Plett, for the third 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 at third reading of Bill C-266, An Act to establish a national Pope John Paul II day. As you know, if passed, this bill will recognize that April 2 of each year on the Canadian calendar will be known as "Pope John Paul II Day."

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 one of his greatest legacies. He was affectionately nicknamed "Wujek," or "uncle," in his early life in the priesthood, a nickname that stuck with him for his entire life.

Karol Józef Wojtyla was officially ordained to the priesthood in Krakow in 1946 and between 1946 and 1958 he performed pastoral duties in Poland. In 1958 he was appointed bishop at the age of 38 and was the youngest bishop ever appointed in Poland. Six years later, Bishop Wojtyla was appointed archbishop. In August 1978 he was elected Pope and adopted the name of Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II was canonized by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014, and is now known as Saint John Paul II. Saint John Paul II's first universal feast day after his canonization was celebrated last week, on October 22, the anniversary of his papal inauguration. Traditionally, the feast of a saint is held on dies natalis, which is the day of one's death or their arrival in heaven.

Pope John Paul II died on April 2 but that day usually falls during Holy Week. To guarantee the day will be solemnly celebrated every year, the Vatican has decided that his day of liturgical memory will be on October 22, the anniversary day of the mass for the inauguration of his pontificate.

As I stated in my speech at second reading of this bill, Pope John Paul II was faced with many challenges as Pope and they bear repeating. He played an active role as an agent of positive change in the geopolitical landscape during his time as Pope. He was witness to the escalating Cold War of the 1980s, the oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Pope John Paul II wasn't a silent witness to these displays of human oppression and acts of atrocities. He remained an active force for peace and a voice against oppression throughout these times.

Historians and supporters frequently point to his opposition to communist rule in Europe, particularly Poland, his homeland, as his greatest contribution to world peace. 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 unifying force for the political movement which followed. This initial trip to Poland by Pope John Paul II is credited by many as a catalyst that set in motion the events which would see the peaceful end of communist rule in Poland and ultimately all of Europe. It is certainly hard to overstate the importance he had on the fall of communism. I'm sure many Canadians who lived in those communist countries at the time can attest to that. Mikhail Gorbachev credits Pope John Paul as the true agent of change and said, "It would have been impossible without the Pope."

June 12, 1987, was his first visit to the city of Gdansk, which had given birth to solidarity. The Pope celebrated mass, which was dedicated to the workers of Poland. Over a million people attended. The mass gave the Polish people the strength to continue to fight for change.

Lech Walesa attended this mass. He spent the day hiding in a church because he was afraid the authorities would detain him while the Pope was saying mass. Mr. Walesa was then taken through the crowds by the priests to attend the celebration of mass by Pope John Paul II. This visit to Gdansk in 1987 was pivotal in the fight against communism by the people of Poland.

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. As Pope, John Paul II improved relations between the Catholic Church and many world faiths, in particular with the Jewish and Islamist 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 to establish formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel.

His message was always one of forgiveness and love. He always celebrated commonalties rather than focusing on differences. His efforts did not go unrecognized. 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 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 devoted his life to peace, inter-faith 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. It is easy to understand why he was and still is an inspiration to many. This devotion was probably felt strongest among the Catholic youth of the world. If his role in the fall of communist rule in Europe and his inter-faith outreach are his legacies to the world, then his devotion to youth is his legacy to the Catholic Church.

John Paul II 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 the only Pope an entire generation of Catholics knew, his warmth, compassion and generosity of spirit, his messages of peace and understanding were largely inspirational for that generation and they continue to carry that influence with them through their lives today. Saint Pope John Paul II's impact on the world, not only during his time as Pope, but also on the world today, is immeasurable.

There's no question that Karol Józef Wojtyla led an important life and, by the grace of God, found his calling in the priesthood. In the Canadian Parliament, we have recognized John A. Macdonald and Wilfrid Laurier with special days. The Lincoln Alexander Day Bill passed the Senate and is now in the House of Commons.

Several concerns about this bill were raised in the Senate at second reading and in the other place about the observation of a day dedicated to a religious leader. Is it appropriate for Parliament to do so in a pluralistic society, as Senator Ogilvie asked Senator Mercer at second reading? Senator Mercer questioned whether this recognition should be given by the Catholic Church, as it has already done since Pope John Paul II passed away, and not necessarily by Parliament.

Now that Pope John Paul II has been canonized, he is known as Saint Pope John Paul II, yet this bill recognizes him as Pope John Paul II. Most Canadians recognize the immense force of good that Pope John Paul II was on the world, but the Catholic Church continues to have no female priests, no female cardinals and no female popes. After my second reading speech, Senator Ogilvie asked about the role of women in the church, and I thought he made an excellent point. I suggested that this point and others that were raised during the debates should be discussed at committee with witnesses. However, when I read the transcript of the hearings, there was only one witness at committee, the sponsor of the bill, Mr. Lizon; so these issues were not discussed at committee.

These are questions I was hoping would be addressed in committee during the study of this bill. However, they were not, and I pose them now for all senators to consider. I don't have the answers to these questions, and I'm really unsure whether there are definite answers to these questions. Are the answers important? Or are we recognizing a person who is not perfect, as none of us are, but who has accomplished much during his life?

As I said at second reading of this bill, my belief is that this proposed 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 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 people 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. His constant message of peace, justice and respect for human rights continues to be an inspiration to us all.

Hon. Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie: Will the honourable senator accept a question?

I want to say how well I thought you handled the questions I posed in your earlier speech. Your answer was excellent in that you anticipated that the committee studying the bill would deal with those and other matters. I, too, was greatly disappointed to see that the committee apparently had not considered any of the serious matters outside the issues put forward by the sponsor of the bill. It flies in the face of what I've generally heard as being the important role of Senate committees in leading to advice to the Senate with regard to issues that are complicated and have a number of critical issues: the issues that you identified; the role of church and state; and the role of women in the church, and so on.

I'd like to ask you an additional question that was not answered or even discussed by the committee. We know that the church does not recognize women as having a role as human beings with an equal status within the church in any form. From what I understand, I believe that gays and lesbians aren't even recognized as persons within the normal opportunities of the church and the religion. I don't expect you necessarily to have all the answers, but would you have a comment on that? Do you agree that this is at least something that might well have been considered by the committee?

Senator Cordy: This is definitely your day, Senator Ogilvie. That's an excellent question, although I'm not sure that I can actually answer it. Certainly, this could have been considered at committee. In light of issues raised during discussion at second reading, I was disappointed to see that there was only the sponsor of the bill who appeared as a witness before the committee. Certainly, gays, lesbians and the transsexual community have been excluded from full participation in the Catholic Church, which is my church, by the way, and my church is very important to me.

I've been paying close attention to the synod of bishops who met recently in Rome. I have the decree or message that they set out in October this year. I've read it but still have it in my reading book to reread. I was very impressed with Pope Francis and his willingness to have an open dialogue on the issue of gays, lesbians and transsexuals. It appeared to me that he wants the church to be more inclusive. That hasn't happened as a result of the recent synod. I have my fingers crossed that at least the dialogue has started within the church and that we become more inclusive.

It would have been very interesting if the issue that you raised about gays, lesbians and transgendered people being excluded from the church had been discussed at committee. I'm sure that we could have had representatives from that community, as well as women, who would be willing to be present to talk about whether they felt excluded from full participation in the church.

As well, we could have discussed other issues related to the separation of church and state. I think that would have been very interesting because very good questions were raised by people within the Senate, which is where they should be raised. When I answered you, it was not that I wanted to avoid the answer, but it was with the expectation that it would be dealt with at committee. Unfortunately, from my perspective, that was not the case. Certainly, you've raised another excellent point. Maybe Pope Francis should be the one we are naming a day for.

Senator Ogilvie: That was an excellent response. Based on the issues currently going on in the Holy See and the role of Pope Francis in this, he might well become an individual who can reach beyond the role of leader of a major church and his impact in society as a whole.

I want to come back to the two issues: the role of women, who are 50 per cent of the Canadian population; and gays and lesbians, who are 10 per cent of the population. Apparently, we will create a day that recognizes an individual who does not include over 50 per cent of the Canadian population within the normal operations and expectations of reason within the church. I'm not sure whether you have anything further to say on that.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Cordy will need more time before she gives her answer.

Senator Cordy: Honourable senators, may I have five minutes?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Cordy: You said that women are 50 per cent of the population, but I think it's 52 per cent. You said that gays and lesbians are 10 per cent, but my guess is that's an underestimation because of the stigma attached. I would guess those numbers are higher.

As I said in my speech, I don't have the answers. I don't know what the answers are. Each individual senator in this place has to make that decision when we come to vote. It's almost a Catch-22. Saint Pope John Paul II has done tremendous things in his life. Some feel we should have the separation of church and state. Certainly, you raised the point of the exclusion of many people in our society that took place while Pope John Paul II was pope. That's a decision each of us has to weigh when looking at whether to name a day for him in consideration of what he has done and perhaps what he hasn't done. It's a big decision for each of us to make. Fortunately, it's a private member's bill, so we should all vote as we see fit.

Interestingly, the two days of honour we have are for men; and a similar bill in the House of Commons is for Lincoln Alexander day. I did some research, and perhaps there are some wonderful Canadian women we should be naming days for, such as Elizabeth Smellie, a nurse who served in both world wars and was the founder of the VON. Jean Flatt Davey was the first woman doctor to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Leila Wightman was the first woman telephone operator. Then there's Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung, of course — who can forgot the Persons Case? Or, perhaps we could just have "The Famous Five Day." Cairine Wilson was the first woman senator; Catherine Callbeck from Prince Edward Island, the first woman elected premier; Charlotte Whitton, the first mayor of a major city; Daurene Lewis, the first Black woman to become mayor — that was in your area, Senator Ogilvie — of Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia. We could go on and on with Roberta Bondar and many other famous women.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is this a question for Senator Cordy or is it on debate?

Hon. David P. Smith: It is a question, Your Honour.

I have great respect for Pope John Paul II — in fact, 30 years ago I had a 40-minute private conversation with him — but my concern is the precedent here. If we do this, what if the evangelical community says let's have a Billy Graham day, or the Lutherans might say, "We want a Martin Luther day." The Presbyterians might want a John Knox day, and the United Church might want a Jim Munson day.

My point is how do you say yes to one group and no to all the other groups? I have real reservations about a precedent such as this, because other popes might be nominated, too.

What's your reaction to the precedent and all the other groups who might want someone from their denomination honoured — the Muslim community, the Hindu community, perhaps a Buddha day? It's a long list.

Senator Cordy: You've actually raised an excellent point. I think Senator Day raised that during a previous discussion of the bill. Perhaps as parliamentarians, or perhaps at the ministerial level, we should be looking at what criteria we should establish. I don't know if there are criteria. I thought there were, but when I researched, I was given the understanding that there aren't. Perhaps we should have criteria for the naming of days for people.

Senator Smith, you've raised an excellent point. Every senator or member of the House of Commons who brings forward a bill to name a day in honour of a person does so with the best of intentions. The intention is to underscore the importance that that notable person has played in the country of Canada. However, perhaps we should look seriously at developing criteria for having a day named after an individual in this country.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.