Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 11, 2004
Douglas Roche walks his talk
John Humphry Centre for Peace and Human Rights honours former journalist with a banquet
I first heard of Douglas Roche in 1972 when I was a university student in Regina.
I watched the federal election results and learned that a man from Edmonton who was the editor of the Western Catholic Reporter had been elected to Parliament. Gee, that's great, I thought.
My family had ties with the Benedictines who run Saskatchewan's Catholic newspaper, the Prairie Messenger, and I thought it was a great thing that someone from the Catholic press would actually get elected to Parliament. He would probably oppose abortion and support foreign aid (as it was called then) and try to help end Canada's own searing social problems.
Following in his footsteps
At that time, of course, I had no notion that I would ever meet Doug Roche or, good grief, become editor of the Western Catholic Reporter myself - events that turned out to be less than nine years off in the future.
During his years in Parliament, Roche became larger than life to me. He became Canada's foremost spokesman for peace and disarmament and for development assistance to Third World nations.
He became the Progressive Conservative Party's foreign affairs critic in the House of Commons and, when the Tories formed a government in 1979, I hoped that he would become the foreign affairs minister.
Alas, he was relegated to the backbenches, a prophet whose voice the Tories loved when they were in opposition but would not stand beside when they gained power.
I became editor of the WCR in 1981 and, not long after, got to meet the famous man.
It was the start of a friendship that grew stronger after my wife Nora and I joined Assumption Parish in 1992 and often found ourselves sitting two pews away from the Roches at Mass.
Doug's star, in its own unique way, continued to rise even after he decided not to seek re-election in 1984. He became Canada's ambassador for disarmament for several years and then taught at the University of Alberta.
In those years teaching, he always seemed to be jetting off to New York to represent the Holy See on some disarmament project, publishing another book or involved in some unique project.
Then Jean Chretien asked Doug to sit in Canada's Senate, which he did with distinction as an independent senator until he turned 75 in June.
On Sept. 30, the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights honoured Roche with a banquet at the Fantasyland Hotel.
He remains an inspiration and is a prime example of the witness a Catholic layperson can bring to the world.
Nora and I were pleased to be with the group of local luminaries that included the mayor, a few city councillors, other senators, journalists, a provincial cabinet minister and an MLA. Just as important in my eyes were Doug's religious connections - Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, a couple of priests, Protestant ministers and representatives of non-Christian faiths.
At 75, most people have begun to creak. But not Doug. He greeted everyone in the crowd personally like a true politician and then gave a stirring address, calling for a culture of peace and denouncing the war in Iraq and the ballistic missile defence system. He was as vigorous and energetic as a man 20 years younger.
Doug's roots in the Catholic press and in reporting on the Second Vatican Council before he came to Edmonton received only passing mention during all the tributes to him.
But there is no question that Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World is seared into his soul and is the driving force for all that he has done since that day I first heard of him in 1972.
Dignity beyond compare
That document says that by becoming human, Christ raised human nature "to a dignity beyond compare."
Doug Roche has provided ample evidence over the years that one can bear witness to that dignity, not only by serving at the altar, but also by speaking out and working tirelessly on what are seemingly the most secular of concerns.
I am awed that I have had the privilege of serving so many years as editor of the newspaper Doug Roche started. To me, he remains an inspiration and is a prime example of the witness a Catholic layperson can bring to the world.
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