WYD a highlight of Fantino's career

  • December 5, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Ontario’s top policeman has seen a lot in his time, but his most memorable moment was being involved behind the scenes with World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.

Julian Fantino, commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, regaled an audience of Catholic businesspeople Dec. 2 at St. Paul’s Basilica with stories about working on security matters relating to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Canada during that hot week in July when the pope was joined by hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world to pray and celebrate their faith together.

“I feel I’ve been truly, truly blessed to have been witness to the workings of a saint,” Fantino told the group over breakfast and after Mass in one of the regular breakfasts hosted by Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins.

World Youth Day, Fantino said, “were the Olympics we didn’t get,” referring to Toronto’s repeated attempts to bring the Olympics to the city.

“I’ll never, ever think the Olympics would have been any better,” he added, describing how the joy and faith of the young people spilled out into the streets and changed the city.

At that time, Fantino was chief of the Toronto Police Service. As such, he was directly involved in the intricate planning over the tight security surrounding Pope John Paul. Much of the planning took place in the months just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and all those involved were extremely anxious that nothing would happen in Toronto.

Despite the tight arrangements, which had been negotiated between the WYD secretariat, the city, province, federal government and the RCMP, Fantino still found a way to help out a priest friend. When Fr. John Borean came to him with a request to have the pope bless his church of St. Francis of Assisi, then under construction, Fantino first thought it would be impossible. But he eventually persuaded all the players involved to have the pope’s helicopter take a short detour from its flight from Strawberry Island to Downsview Airport on the final Saturday and circle around the church. Below, a huge crowd of parishioners had gathered and spread out a cloth cross made with the papal colours of white and yellow. John Paul blessed them and then went on his way.

“And so it was that it happened,” Fantino said.

Fantino told numerous other stories about Pope John Paul and his own youth growing up as part of a devout Catholic family in Italy that immigrated to Canada in the 1950s. He recalled with pride the role of his own parents and the Catholic Church in instilling beliefs and principles that he continues to hold fast.

The Archbishop’s Breakfast Series is sponsored by the archdiocese of Toronto, Regis College and Salt+Light TV. The next one will take place at St. Paul’s on Feb. 24, beginning with Mass at 7:15 a.m., followed by a talk by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M., Cap., of Denver, Colorado. Admission is $20 and includes a light breakfast.

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