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March 9, 2015

Likely few Canadians have Thursday, April 2 on their radar screen. That day will not only be Holy Thursday, but also both Canada's first commemoration of Pope John Paul II Day as well as the 10th anniversary of the sainted pope's death.

It might seem odd that Canada, a largely secular nation, has set aside a day on which to remember a Catholic pope. Pope John Paul, however, was no garden variety pope, if there be such a thing. He was almost certainly the human being who was the greatest force for good in the 20th century.

Not only was his moral voice instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Empire – surely the most unexpected event of the century – but he had a profound impact on the improvement of interfaith relations, especially between Christians and Jews.

Andrew Kania, the Liberal MP who started the ball rolling towards an annual day commemorating Pope John Paul, said of the late pope, "He did not go around saying that the Roman Catholic Church was right and other religions were wrong. He went around saying let us work together and try to be good, help and respect one another, and show love and compassion."

After Kania's defeat in the 2011 election, the torch passed to Conservative MP Wladyslaw Lizon who shepherded his private member's bill creating the April 2 "day of memory" through the House of Commons before it received royal assent last Dec. 16.

Pope John Paul's funeral in 2005 was an unforgettable event. Likely the largest funeral in history, more than four million people were present, including the largest number of heads of state ever to attend a funeral.

Canadians will not forget his three visits to our country. On his 10-day visit in 1984 and brief return to Fort Simpson in 1987, Pope John Paul visited more of Canada than most Canadians will ever see and riveted the nation's attention. In 2002, physically much weaker, he still was able to thrill young people at Toronto's World Youth Day.

It is fitting that Canada has set a day aside in memory of Pope John Paul. He sets the standard for how faith can positively transform society.