Papal nuncio,Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi invokes the intercession of St. John Paul II as he gave a blessing to the Parliament Hill gathering marking the first Pope John Paul II Day. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Canada marks first John Paul II Day

  • April 2, 2015

OTTAWA - Parliamentarians marked the first John Paul II Day a day early April 1, recalling the late pope’s legacy as a defender of human dignity against oppression.

Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer, who hosted a reception that gathered Members of Parliament, Senators and several ambassadors, including the papal nuncio and the Polish ambassador, spoke of how Pope John Paul II used his office “to bring attention to the human rights abuses” and “violations of religious freedom around the world.”

“Not only did this improve the situation of Catholics and Christians who were targets of oppression, but also it spoke to the broader issue of religious freedom no matter what the faith,” said Scheer.

Scheer pointed out MP Wladyslaw Lizon’s Bill C-266 marking April 2, the anniversary of John Paul II’s death, as a civil holiday won the support of all parties in the House of Commons. Introduced in 2011, it passed the Senate last December. The bill “speaks to the legacy of John Paul II and the reverence with which his memory is held across our country,” the Speaker said.

The late pope survived the “atrocities of the Nazis and the Communist government,” Scheer said. John Paul II realized those abuses were “born of hatred and intolerances.”

“Rather than vengeance, John Paul sought reconciliation and forgiveness and a way to break out of the cycle of violence,” he said.

While many have strong memories of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher standing up to communism, “in many ways it was Pope John Paul’s visit, standing with his people against oppression that they faced, that really sowed the seeds that ended up resulting in the fall of communism."

Defense Minister and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney recalled how John Paul II’s first words upon coming out onto the balcony after his election were “Be not afraid.” Those words were heard by victims of oppression around the world, Kenney said.

He also sent a message to the Kremlin that he would be a “powerful voice of human dignity” that was heard as well by dictators from Nicaragua to the Philippines.

“He gave courage to the people of Poland and drew the largest crowds in that country’s history,” Kenney said, noting his message of “truth and solidarity” led not only to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall but also inspired the People Power revolution against the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

Kenney stressed John Paul II’s message of peace and human dignity is relevant not only to totalitarian societies but to liberal democracies as well and one “we must constantly relearn in our own prosperous and free society.”

“We must remember that he taught us that democracy is founded on this notion of the dignity of the human person and that must be constantly be protected,” he said.

Lizon recalled attending Masses celebrated by then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla in Krakow while Lizon was a student in Poland and being in the crowd during John Paul II’s first visit to Poland as pope. He kept repeating the words, “Do not be afraid,” Lizon said, and “he had a way of putting so much energy into people as he was speaking to them we really had no fear.”

Lizon said the Pope had reminded us “democracy and freedom is not given to us forever, it has to be renewed over and over again and the fight to keep it has to go on.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said “it joins all Canadians in honouring the memory of Pope John Paul II and celebrating this exceptional human being.”

The City of Toronto marked both the national and the provincial John Paul II Day with a celebration at Nathan Phillips Square, featuring remarks by Cardinal Thomas Collins and a performance by the student choir of St. John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough. The city raised the Vatican flag on the square’s courtesy flag pole.

Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, planned to mark John Paul II Day by celebrating the Holy Thursday Mass wearing the chasuble and chalice Pope John Paul II offered during his 1984 visit to Quebec City.

The Hamilton Diocese prepared a special web page to promote and celebrate the day and set up a Facebook page to engage social media.

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