Skip navigation

Pope had a fondness for Canada

Three papal trips to Canada helped fortify an already strong bond with Canada's Catholic community

Canadian Press

Toronto — It was a massive spectacle of faith rarely matched in Canadian history, with a stooped, tremulous shadow of a man at its centre buoyed by oceans of youthful Catholic enthusiasm.

But even as age racked his body, there was no mistaking the power of Pope John Paul during those seven summer days in Toronto in 2002.

"You are young, and the Pope is old ... but he still identifies with your hopes and aspirations," John Paul told more than 500,000 rapt Catholic youth during what would be his last visit to Canada.

Every low, muffled word was a visible struggle; every trembling wave a painful reminder of his failing health. But the young people who gathered to see the Pope were as much an inspiration for him as he was to them.

"I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young," he said.

"Do not let that hope die. Stake your lives on it."

It was in his relentless travels that John Paul, the most travelled pope in history and one often described as a travelling salesman for the Roman Catholic Church, defined his tenure as Holy Father.

His three papal trips to Canada — the first a 12-day, cross-country odyssey in 1984 — helped fortify an already strong bond with Canada's Catholic community.

By his final visit, the once-robust pontiff was a visibly fragile old man racked with the symptoms of old age and Parkinson's disease who fairly wilted before a global congregation inspired largely by his tenacity.

The Pope's health became an acute concern in February 2005, when he was hospitalized twice in Rome with respiratory problems. During his second visit he underwent a tracheotomy, a procedure in which a hole is made in the throat and a tube is inserted to assist breathing, and a month later he had a feeding tube inserted.

But in the summer of 2002, awaited by more than half a million Christian youth who came to Toronto for World Youth Day, Pope John Paul spent seven inspiring days eschewing the indignities of infirmity, tackling airplane staircases without trepidation and immersing himself in his papal duties with visible delight.

During a boat cruise, he welcomed residents from a nearby home for the developmentally disabled to an impromptu blessing atop the waves of central Ontario's serene Lake Simcoe.

He even ventured outside the security of his bulletproof Popemobile to greet Toronto residents before meeting hundreds of thousands of young disciples for a Saturday night vigil and three-hour Sunday mass.

"The world you are inheriting is a world which desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity," he told more than 800,000 people from a colossal stage adorned with a 50-metre cross.

"It is a world which needs to be touched and healed by the beauty and richness of God's love. It needs witnesses to that love. It needs you to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world."

Pope John Paul continued his voyages in Guatemala and Mexico, but it was as if he left his energy and vitality behind in Toronto as a souvenir for the young masses he described as the future of the Roman Catholic church.

"It just shows that no matter how old you get, how worn out your body gets, your spirit is pure and your spirit will live forever," said a weeping 17-year-old Donna Lajeunesse-Young, from Bowmanville, Ont., as the Pope's plane taxied away.

"In faith and in God, you can do anything; as long as your heart's in it, you've got the power."

John Paul's first papal visit to Canada was a 12-day tour in 1984, one of his longest to any country.

His second visit to Canada, in 1987, was a brief, five-hour jaunt to Fort Simpson, N.W.T., to honour a promise he made when his scheduled 1984 visit to the northern hamlet was cancelled by fog.

The 1984 trip was a pastoral pilgrimage that took him from the outports of Newfoundland to B.C. Place in Vancouver.

Recommend this article? 0 votes

Back to top