Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 20, 2004
Canada marks papal milestone
Three trips over 25 years see changes in both pope and country
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Pope John Paul arrived in Quebec City on Sept. 9, 1984, and Liberal Prime Minister John Turner welcomed him.
But when the pontiff left Canada 12 days later, it was newly elected Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who bade him farewell.
Turner and Mulroney are long gone from public office. But the pope, 84 years old, growing increasingly frail and suffering from Parkinson's disease, continues the spiritual leadership of more than a billion Catholics worldwide which he started over 25 years ago.
For many Canadians, the weakened pontiff they occasionally see on television sharply contrasts with the athletic, vibrant man who 20 years earlier became the first pope to visit Canada.
He touched hearts
His arrival at the airport in Quebec City marked the beginning of one of the biggest events in Canadian history, a 15,000-km coast-to-coast marathon by airplane, popemobile and boat - praying, teaching and celebrating with millions of Canadians.
As Bishop John Sherlock, then president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), said later, the pope's visit was not a time of ideas, but of images.
"The images of the papal visit touched the heart," he said. "The tender touch of the holy father on the bodies of the handicapped, the smiles and even the tears of joy as the children reached out to touch him. It brought tears to my eyes."
Canada's governor-general at the time, Jeanne Sauve, described the pope's visit as an encounter unlike any other and one that would "leave in our very soul a permanent mark . . . which will prompt us to join the unflagging ranks of those who pray and those who work for peace."
"At the time it was a very remarkable event, a very powerful event and one that certainly provoked positive reaction, not only among Catholics and Christians but amongst people in general," said Father Dan Donovan, a theology professor at the University of St. Michael's College.
He acknowledged that it is difficult to measure the effect of the pope's visit in 1984 and whether it has been a lasting one.
However, he said that following the pope's visit to World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 there was an increase in the number of students taking courses in the Christianity and Culture program at St. Michael's. "It seemed to me that the increase was, at least in part, due to his (the pope's) presence," which heightened the sense of religious values, he said.
During the pope's 1984 visit, he made more than 30 major addresses in English and French and issued various statements. His themes included solidarity, justice, peace, the place of youth, Jesus Christ as a beacon of hope.
Bernard Daly, publisher emeritus of the Catholic Register, was assistant visit coordinator for the pope's 1984 visit to Canada.
Daly said the visit plan originally submitted by the CCCB did not include a special meeting with aboriginal peoples.
"The pope asked for that, and the native leaders themselves chose Fort Simpson as the venue - where the pope could not land in 1984 because of bad weather, but returned on Sept. 20, 1987," he said.
Return to Fort Simpson
The pontiff's return to Fort Simpson was his second visit to Canada. His third was for a six-day period during World Youth Day 2002, mainly in the Toronto area. More than 800,000 people attended the closing celebrations with the pope, the largest single gathering in Canadian history.
While millions of Canadians have been enthusiastic about the pope's visits in the past, his trips have come with a cost to the Catholic community in this country of at least $50 million in total, including $38 million to cover the World Youth Day 2002 deficit.
Another visit to Canada by the pope or his successor is likely in 2008.