Pope John Paul II: Memories to Cherish

September 1984

The Pope in Canada:
A Journey Into the Heart

by Fred Miller, O.M.I.

St. Anthony Messenger
January 1985

John Paul II came as a pastor to visit his Catholic flock and to celebrate with them their shared faith. It was a fatherly, friendly and pastoral visit, not a polemical foray. A press poll found the pope's favorite themes unpopular and drew attention to the fact that, though people love and admire him, most disagree with his teachings on abortion, the morality of sexuality and marriage, women in the Church and clerical celibacy.

In spite of this considerable resistance to his message, his enormous personal popularity was confirmed by enthusiastic crowds which greeted him at every stop, some of them standing for hours in the rain and mud for the privilege of attending his Mass.

Youth Love Him

On the night of September 11, 1984, in a magnificent spectacle at Montreal's Olympic Stadium with a near-capacity crowd of 55,000, two thousand dancers and actors staged stunning tableaux dramatizing the battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

The Holy Father spoke in response to 7,000 letters sent to him in Rome by young people from Quebec. And he expressed their thoughts in terms of the struggle between light and darkness. His marvelous rapport with young people moved a teenage boy, watching him with binoculars, to say, "Watch him. Watch him. Isn't he beautiful?"

The pope said to the youth, "In regard to the dark side of your questions, I would like to say to you: Stand erect and hold your heads high, for your deliverance is at hand.

"In times of darkness, do not seek an escape. Have the courage to resist the dealers in deception who make capital of your hunger for happiness and who make you pay dearly for a moment of artificial paradise—a whiff of smoke, a bout of drinking or drugs."

He spoke of a problem many of those 7,000 letters had broached: the pain youth feel through the breakdown of family life. He urged them, "Do not doubt; you can build a home on the rock of fidelity, because you can count totally on the fidelity of God who is love."

And he warned them against premarital sex, saying, "React against false illusions and do not confuse a premature experience of pleasure with the giving of oneself in love, deliberately consented to, and forever."

The sight of 55,000 young people, most of them in their teens, listening to a sermon was itself some kind of miracle. And they punctuated their listening with cheers that rose like a roar from 55,000 throats. They waved in unison 55,000 white scarves. It was a magnificent encounter. The pope had bridged the gap. He held them in the palm of his hand.

With Native Peoples in the North

Not once, but on three separate occasions Pope John Paul II devoted talks to social justice for the Indian, Inuit (Eskimo) and Meti (half-breed) peoples. These talks were orchestrated to climax at Fort Simpson. Though he never made it to Fort Simpson, he delivered his speech in the office of the airport manager at Yellowknife, before a camera and a tape recorder.

At St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec he shocked the native people with his frank admission of blunders on the part of the Church in dealing with them in the past. He may have been alluding to the collusion of clergy with the government in coercing native peoples to sign unfair treaties.

At Midland in Ontario, he encouraged the integration of ancient native religious ceremonies into Christian worship, quoting Catechesi Tradendae, which indicated the Church's desire to assist all people "to bring forth from their own living tradition original expressions of Christian life, celebration and thought." He suited action to word and took part in one such ceremony, the sweetgrass ceremony of purification where smoke is seen as a ritual cleansing.

In Yellowknife he spoke out clearly for native self-determination. But he set this in the context of Christian love, calling for a healing of old wounds, forgiveness and responsibility. He called on native people to work together with others for the common good of Canada. He gave the aboriginals a strong moral hand to play when they next sit down to negotiate their future.

A Matter of Heart

In his farewell address he said, "We have celebrated together, we have prayed to the Lord, we have been in communion with him, we have listened to his word....I cannot speak now of all that I will keep in my heart; that goes beyond what can be expressed in a few words."

Said Archbishop James Carney of Vancouver, "Your journey has taken you longer than you know. It has taken you past geography right in to our hearts."

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