Pope John Paul II greets one of the young fans during his first visit to Canada in 1984. Register File photo

The Register Archive: Pope John Paul II makes historic visit to Canada

  • January 19, 2018
To mark The Register’s 125th year, we are digging into our archive to re-publish interesting stories from the pages of our past. As Pope Francis winds up his visit to Chile and Peru, we take a look back at another papal visit — the first one ever to Canada. Here is an excerpt from The Register article on Pope John Paul II’s first day on Canadian soil, Sept. 9, 1984.

QUEBEC CITY – With thousands of flag-waving, cheering adults and children already lining his every route and waiting for his arrival, Pope John Paul II began an historic 12-day visit to Canada by stepping from a jet at Quebec City’s airport and kneeling to kiss the ground.

Precisely at the moment Pope John Paul knelt to kiss the ground, the first boom of a 21-gun salute rang through the air to welcome the first reigning pontiff to Canada. About 1,000 people were invited to the airport to view the brief but warm welcoming ceremony.

As Governor-General Jeanne Sauvé welcomed the pontiff as “a pilgrim of compassion and peace,” church bells rang throughout Quebec.

“We receive you as a prophet, for — more than any other contemporary leader — you have been successful in identifying the causes of our universal anxiety,” she said. “You proclaim that we need fear no longer, that we must act boldly, that God is not dead and that the harm we inflict on each other comes from our inability to retain the primacy of the soul and to capture the spiritual essence of existence.”

Children representing Canada’s ethnic groups and smiling happily stood in a line holding bouquets of flowers to hand to the Pope. John Paul II stopped the carefully timed and orchestrated airport welcome to touch each child and chat.

Pope John Paul, in his address of greeting, said he comes to visit the nation as pastor and brother, not as a head of state.

“I am among you to share the bread and the word, to share hope, to bring you the word of God and the bread of the Eucharist.”

At Quebec City’s Cartier-Brebeuf Park, hundreds of cheering children waved yellow cardboard doves as John Paul arrived in a limousine.

The children, all of whom had recently been confirmed, were given a rosary. The Pope greeted the children by kissing many and shaking their hands.

At Notre Dame de Quebec Cathedral, he evoked the work of Blessed Francois de Laval, the founder of the Canadian Church. “He (Bishop Laval) came to Quebec as an ardent witness of the spiritual renewal in which he had participated in France as a missionary and as a pastor.”

From the cathedral, the Pope walked to: the “Petit Seminaire de Quebec” to address the clergy and religious.

There he prayed at the tomb of Blessed Francois de Laval, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, along with Marie de 1’Incarnation and Kateri Tekakwitha.

The Pope praised the courageous priests and religious men and women who brought the Gospel to Canada.

“Let us praise the Lord for all that He has allowed your predecessors to accomplish,” the Pope said. “And now I would like to say, and I will be repeating it more than once during my journey, that the Church strongly counts on your action and witness. True, your role has changed over the last few years, but the essential element of your particular vocation remains: the gift of self in consecrated celibacy and a life of prayer and charity.”

The final function of the day was the colourful and moving papal Mass on the Laval University grounds. Close to 300,000 people attended the event.

In his homily, the Pope emphasized the need for a strong faith in Christ.

The pontiff placed at the very centre of his talk the words of St. Peter about Christ: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

“Today, on Canadian soil, the bishop of Rome wants to profess this faith with all his heart,” the Pope told the vast throng.

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