Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 16, 2000
Trudeau symbolized era of profound change
As the tributes poured in following the death of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, one couldn't help wondering how the ethos of our times has changed.
No doubt, the'60s were years of profound change. For some this meant uncertainty and a fear of having to re-examine and perhaps discard old familiar concepts about the cozy little world we inhabited.
Others embraced the opportunity to evaluate each sacred cow from cloven hoof to horned head. Many of us, both at home and abroad, regarded Trudeau as the Canadian personification of this hope-filled time of renewal. Here was a man of courage and vision, reason and passion, who would lead us to break down old barriers, discard staid traditions, and entice us to venture onto unexplored paths.
Mike Pearson, who had left his own mark on a world at war, introduced him at the leadership convention as the "new superman" who embodied our aspirations for a just and open society. There were other paradigmatic figures during that eventful decade, such as Martin Luther King, who blazed trails and dismantled barricades which had kept us apart as members of one human family for all too long.
First and foremost among them was Pope John XXIII, a so-called caretaker pope to fill the vacancy until someone more suitable could be chosen. John opened the windows of a Church closed in on itself and became the first pope since the Reformation to acknowledge that Catholicism stood in need of re-invigoration and reform.
Vatican II would put aside "old hostilities and accept that Catholics share responsibility for the scandal of a divided Christianity."
But the divisions in the world were much wider and deeper that those found among Christian denominations. There were divisions of race and ethnicity, of gender and ability, of class and opportunity, of wealth and poverty, faith and ideology.
"There can be, or at least should be, no doubt," said Pope John, "that relations between states as well as individuals, should be regulated not by the force of arms, but by the light of reason, by the rule that is, of truth, or justice and action and sincere cooperation."
This vision of healing broken relations, I think, inspired Trudeau. But, as he objected correctly, he was no superman or magician. The task of creating a more harmonious world was a shared responsibility.
Still, he led the way, by recognizing the legitimacy of almost half of humanity living in China and opening the doors for their representatives to participate in human discourse. He reached out to Fidel Castro to show the world he was not the ogre portrayed by capitalist propaganda. Pope John Paul did much the same during his visit to the island some 20 years later.
Trudeau recognized the valuable contribution women could make at every level of public life and he gave new impetus to establish French as the legitimate second language that it is while respecting the multicultural nature of our nation.
Trudeau also opened the North-South dialogue, the need of which really became apparent after the world's bishops met for the first time at Vatican II.
Perhaps his most important legacy was that he inspired youth to aspire to high ideals. Even his opponents will agree that Pierre was a good father to his children.
I remember the image of one of his young sons tugging at Trudeau's coat while he was in conversation with some monarch or high official and Pierre bending over, dismissing all protocol, and attending to the child's questions first.
For a time it seemed as if the world was indeed changing and that perhaps "love your enemy" was not as remote a possibility as we thought it had been.
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