March 31, 2014

TORONTO – Pope John Paul II Day is close to being celebrated in Ontario, but the provincial Parliament needs to act quickly.

On March 17, after receiving the full support of the legislature, a bill to proclaim April 2 in honour of the late pope passed its final reading, leaving about two weeks for it to receive royal assent in order for the first Pope John Paul II Day to be celebrated this year. The pope died April 2, 2005.

Liberal MPP Dipika Damerla proposed the private member's bill. Since May 2013, Damerla has periodically introduced the bill, asking for unanimous consent from the house to move it forward, but it would get turned down again and again.

This follows on the heels of attempts by Conservative MPP Frank Klees, beginning in 2007, to have April 2 as a day to honour the pontiff.

With a minority government, to get such a bill passed, co-operation from the other side is key, said Damerla. She had to barter support among her legislative colleagues, supporting other MPPs on some issues and asked them to support her on this.

"So I think it's a combination of persistence and a little bit of luck and timing," she said.

Damerla says she's working overtime to ensure this year in the first year to celebrate Pope John Paul II.

Damerla serves Mississauga East-Cooksville, a riding where Catholics make up a large, if not the largest, faith group. The Polish community is also prominent in the riding, she said.

"So when I was speaking to them, I got a sense of how important Pope John Paul II is."


She added: "I am not Catholic, but I've always felt that once you're elected, you represent the aspirations and the sentiments of your community."

This April would be a significant month to start celebrating Pope John Paul II Day, said Damerla, because Blessed John Paul II will be canonized on April 27 and 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

The Polish pope played a key role in communism's demise.


Damerla calls Pope John Paul II "a universal figure and spiritual leader whose legacy is marked by his strong commitment to peace, equality, human rights and multi-faith dialogue and understanding."

He was the only pope to have visited Ontario, which he did in 1984 and 2002.