Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 11, 2005
Pope spoke as 'a witness of hope'
Pope John Paul visited Canada three times during his pontificate
By GLEN ARGAN
It was billed as a celebration of faith. And Pope John Paul's 12-day tour across Canada in September 1984 was just that, drawing nearly two million people to papal events and winning the heart of a nation.
But while the tour was a joyous one, some were unsure beforehand how the papal visit would turn out. In previous visits to the United States and Switzerland, the pope had scolded the local Church for its liberalizing tendencies. Would the same thing happen when he came to Canada?
In the end, the answer was an unequivocal "no." The pope did have harsh words for consumerism, unemployment, the destruction of the fisheries and abortion. But he spoke in concert with the Canadian bishops who had also been critical of tendencies that were eroding Canadian society.
A stellar trip
The 1984 visit was the most dramatic of the pope's three visits to Canada. It touched every region and rivetted the nation's attention for nearly two weeks.
Pope John Paul returned in 1987 to Fort Simpson, N.W.T., to visit native people in the North - a part of his 1984 trip that had to be cancelled because of heavy fog. And he came in 2002 to Toronto, despite ill health, to receive a resounding welcome at World Youth Day.
The pope began his 1984 travels through Canada in Quebec City, saying he had come as "a witness of hope." As he toured the province where religious practice had fallen off drastically, he urged Quebecers to return to their faith.
At an open-air Mass in Montreal, he said material wealth, permissive living and the search for wealth and power all leave "an after-taste of illusion and a void in the heart."
Three hundred thousand people at another Mass at Laval University heard the pope say Quebec's traditional culture had been "shattered" by modernity. He called for "a new missionary effort" to revitalize the faith of Quebecers.
But speaking to aboriginal people at the shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre, the pope apologized for the Church's "blunders" in early missionary efforts.
In the tiny fishing village of Flatrock, Nfld., Pope John Paul deplored the fact that food production was controlled "by the profit motive of the few, rather than by the needs of the many."
Large fishing companies were losing concern for the needs of fishers and their families also put the world's food supply in ever-greater jeopardy.
At a Mass near Winnipeg, he warned that "the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time."
In Vancouver, the pope prophetically condemned abortion as setting "the stage for despising, negating and eliminating the life of adults and for attacking the life of society."
In Edmonton, the pope gave his most passionate homily of the visit, denouncing the huge economic inequities between the poor South and the rich North. He shouted and the loudspeakers shook with his fury as he spoke of those who amass "to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others."
Pope John Paul ended his Canadian tour in the nation's capital where he urged the country's bishops to defend "the dignity of the family" in the face of widespread "hedonism."
If the pope's words made an impact, so did the man himself. Thousands waited for hours to gain a glimpse of the pontiff as he travelled by in a fast-moving popemobile. Others who met him face to face will never forget the experience.
Nurse Colleen Lazaruk was elated about shaking the pope's hand before the Mass in Edmonton. "It was so cold outside and his hand was so warm," she said.
Ontario Deacon Daniel Dauvin, his wife Mary and their four children slept beside the altar the night before the papal Mass in Edmonton.
"The Church has been in an ice age of conservatism and the pope's coming to Canada will help open the Church here to new ways of worship and expressing our faith," Dauvin said.
Even the irrepressibly secular Globe and Mail was moved by the papal visit.
All Canadians, religious or not, "listened intently to this man - wanted to listen," The Globe said in an editorial. His prayer was more than Christian - "it was a communion before the mystery of existence."
Canadians' sense of community grew through the papal visit and we saw more clearly that the spiritual is at the core of all that is human, the newspaper said.
Plans for the visit began in 1981 when Pope John Paul accepted an invitation from Edmonton Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, then president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, to come to Canada. MacNeil urged the pope to make it a 12-day visit, longer than he had visited any country. While the Vatican was reluctant, the pope agreed.
Big, big country
At the end of the Mass in Edmonton - and before an afternoon off at Elk Island National Park - Pope John Paul seemed awed by the country he was visiting. "You ask, perhaps, what is my opinion about Canada? Canada is a big, big country - a continent. It is sometimes windy, sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy and rather windy."
In September 1987, the pope met with 3,500 people for a Mass under a giant tipi at Fort Simpson at the end of a trip to the United States. He told the gathering aboriginal people are entitled to self-government, as well as to the land and resources needed to make it possible.
An extensive process of pastoral preparation preceded the pope's 2002 WYD visit to Toronto. The WYD Pilgrim Cross travelled across Canada and gave hundreds of thousands of youth and young adults an opportunity to bear witness to their faith on their home ground.
An estimated 800,000 people - the largest crowd ever to attend a public event in Canada - were at the closing WYD Mass in Toronto to hear the pope tell the receptive youth the world "desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity."
"I have rarely seen such joy, such a sense of celebration, such faith," Calgary Bishop Frederick Henry gushed about the five-day celebration.
Two thousand Alberta youth, including 1,000 from the Edmonton Archdiocese, attended the Toronto WYD. The pope, frail and his once-boundless energy now eroding, was still the star attraction.
"The pope is a great role model for everyone because in spite of his sickness and fragility he came to celebrate with us," said Andrew Heikkila of Edmonton. "Seeing the pope was probably one of the most amazing parts of my life."
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