The Pope in Canada: a historiclgrimage

Ross Laver September 10 1984

The Pope in Canada: a historiclgrimage

Ross Laver September 10 1984

The Pope in Canada: a historiclgrimage


Ross Laver

From the moment Pope John Paul II’s Alitalia DC-10 jet touches down at Quebec City airport at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, his 12-day visit to Canada will be part spiritual pilgrimage and part lavish religious spectacle. The 64year-old pontiff, the first in history to journey to Canada, is one of the most charismatic leaders in the modern world. As a result, Canadians of all beliefs and backgrounds will flock to catch a glimpse of him and hear his pastoral message—an eloquent plea for justice, peace and unselfish dedication which church leaders hope will strengthen the religious ties of the country’s 11.2 million Roman Catholics.

At the same time, the religious hysteria and mass adulation that John Paul’s presence will unleash will pose a major challenge to local officials along his 10,000-km route, who are charged with preventing massive disruption. In Toronto, where one million people are expected for a Sept. 15 outdoor mass at Downsview airport, authorities are attempting to avoid paralysing traffic jams by cordoning off an 11-square-mile

section of suburban North York and requiring all residents who wish to enter or leave the area to show special passes. In Montreal police are welding shut scores of manhole covers along the Pope’s route in order to prevent terrorists from using the sewers as convenient hiding places for bombs. And in Ottawa tour organizers were forced to level two hills at the site of the papal mass to provide 250,000 worshipers with an unobstructed view of the pontiff.

Controversy: As he journeys across Canada, John Paul will also inspire debate and controversy. Already, there are complaints about the $50-million cost of the papal visit, about $20 million of which will be borne by the hosts themselves—the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the 16 Roman Catholic dioceses across the country. The federal government will provide the balance. The breakdown: $12 million for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., to set up an organization that will act as host broadcaster for the tour (page 16); $7.2 million for security of the Pope and those who come to see him; $6 million for the department of external affairs to

arrange media facilities along the route; and $4.6 million for the department of national defence to pay for transporting the Pope as well as roughly 20 members of his entourage and about 50 members of the Vatican press corps.

Still, tour organizers will try to reap almost as much as they sow. The church expects to recoup some of its costs by licensing the manufacture and sale of official souvenirs—everything from blue-and-white key chains, ties and baseball caps to a sparkling white wine with a logo of the papal visit on the label. Explained Richard Gareau, president of Montreal-based International Licencing Corp., the firm chosen by the bishops to supervise the licensing of memorabilia: “Souvenirs are a fact of life. I would challenge anyone to say that the church is turning the visit into a commemorative carnival.” Meanwhile, Canada’s tourism industry is bracing itself for an expected influx of as many as two million foreign visitors who will spend an estimated $50 million during the papal tour. Said John Lawson, vice-president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada: “The biggest long-term impact will not be the large crowds descending in a certain location but the publicity Canada will get around the world from the television coverage. The spin-offs are more important than the actual visit.”

Non-Catholic religious leaders are sharply divided about the wisdom of spending so much public money on the papal visit. “We believe in the separation of church and state,“ said Rev.

Frank McClelland of the Toronto Free Presbyterian Church, an offshoot of the fundamentalist Protestant sect that Rev. Ian Paisley founded in Northern Ireland. McClelland, who last week denounced the papal tour as “heady Roman propaganda,” said that it is wrong to “ask taxpayers to finance what is really a public relations exercise for another denomination.” Rev. Brian Stiller, executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada—an association of 17 conservative Protestant denominations—also objected to the use of public funds and he added that the sale of souvenirs to raise money for the visit detracts from the pontiff’s spiritual purpose. Declared Stiller: “Memorabilia is one thing, but the blatant merchandising to pay for his trip is surely a commentary on the lack of interest by members of his own church.” Charitable: But other non-Catholic leaders view the expense of the Pope’s tour in a more charitable spirit. Said Rev. Alex Calder, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada: “If this was something that happened every six months or so it might be a concern. But it has not happened since Columbus discovered America.” Added Rabbi Gunther Plaut, senior scholar at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple: “We do it for sports heroes, so why not do it for the head of the Roman Catholic Church?” For their part, Catholic church officials hope that John Paul’s visit will help to counteract the increasing disaffection of many Catholics with orga-

nized religion. Declared Victoria’s Bishop Remi De Roo, one of the church’s most articulate activists: “For a number of people who have not looked too closely at their faith, the Pope’s visit may reawaken an interest for them. If the gospel suddenly comes alive for people who had lost interest, so much the better.” In fact, a 1983 Gallup poll showed that weekly church attendance by Catholics has dwindled to 51 per cent, compared to 65 per cent in 1970 and 83 per cent in 1965. Although those figures are still high compared to those for other denominations—overall church attendance among Canadians last year was only 36 per cent—many Catholics say that the declining rate of attendance at services is a sign that growing numbers of church members are unhappy with the church’s rigid positions on such issues as birth control, divorce, abortion, extramarital sex and homosexuality.

Retrograde: Indeed, the papal visit itself will help to underscore the sharp divisions between John Paul’s hard-line stance on most doctrinal issues and the more liberal views of many Canadian Catholics. Feminists, in particular, are incensed by what they regard as John Paul’s retrograde attitude toward women—especially his uncompromising opposition to the ordination of women. Said Elisabeth Lacelle, a professor of religious studies at the University of Ottawa and member of a Canadian church commission on the role of women: “What feminists are saying is that the church must change its structure because now it does not involve women as full, responsible members.”

In Quebec a nun who performs most of the functions of a priest in St-Michel de Napierville parish, about 30 km south west of Montreal, sparked a controversy among some of her colleagues when she complained publicly that the Quebec As sembly of Bishops did not invite her to a clerical meeting and prayer service with the pontiff at St. Joseph's Oratory on Sept. 11. In early August Sister Claire Richer called her exclusion another ex ample of the "sexism of a male-domina ted church that allows women no role in making decisions that affect their own lives." In a show of sympathy, four priests in her diocese announced that they, too, would boycott the papal meet ing. Even so, many Catholic leaders ex pect the Pope to moderate his doctrinal pronouncements to avoid offending in dignant liberal Catholic women. Pri vately, other Catholic spokesmen ex pressed the hope that the Pope may have learned a lesson in diplomacy from his 1979 visit to the United States, when Sister Theresa Kane publicly lectured the pontiff on the "intense suffering and pain" of "half of humankind." Added Alexander Carter. bishop of Sault Ste.

Marie, Ont.: “I do not think liberals will be too upset. The Pope has a way of expression that takes the sting out of conservatism.”

Church officials also point to a significant difference between this tour and most of the Pope’s 23 previous foreign visits: although John Paul himself is known to disapprove of the practice, church officials have stated that they will permit women to distribute communion wafers during his Canadian

masses. “That is something that did not happen even when the Pope was in the United States,” one highly placed church official noted. “Frankly, I think the Pope would rather women were not involved, but there simply are not enough priests to go around.”

At the same time, church officials admit that they have little advance knowledge of John Paul’s own preparations for his Canadian visit. “All we have done is to provide him with a series of background papers for his speeches, but the actual writing is done in Rome,” explained Paschale O’Toole, a spokesman for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “God knows, he is not a parrot. He says what is on his mind.” Still, O’Toole said that it would be safe to assume that John Paul “is not going to get involved with the internal politics of Canada on things like native rights or the provinces.”

Concern: Still, church officials expect John Paul to speak on a number of themes in his Canadian homilies. In St. John’s the Pope is expected to express his deep concern about the disintegration of family life, especially the prevalence of divorce and the ease with which Catholics can obtain annulments from Canadian church authorities. In Toronto his speech will focus on technology and labor, perhaps drawing on his 1981

encyclical On Human Work, in which he linked the dignity of human beings with their ability to do meaningful work under just conditions. His speech in Edmonton will centre on the Third World and the responsibility of the industrialized nations to build more equitable societies. And in Ottawa, the last stop on his visit, John Paul is scheduled to speak on a subject that has dominated his papacy more than any other: the pursuit of world peace and the urgency of halt-

ing the nuclear arms race between the superpowers.

Appeal: Whatever subjects he chooses to address during his visit, John Paul is certain to capture the hearts—if not always the minds—of his listeners. In the six years since he assumed the papacy, the pontiff has become a familiar face to Catholics and _

non-Catholics alike around the world. By his lack of formality, by stern but compassionate leadership and by sheer force of personality, the Pope has succeeded in bolstering the faith of many of the world’s 740 million Catholics at a time when traditional religions are striving to adjust to changing circumstances (page 14). Indeed, it was the Pope’s remarkable appeal among the world’s Catholics that led Canada’s bishops to ask him to visit Canada.

From the moment the bishops’ conference announced the tour in May,

1983, thousands of Roman Catholics across the country have been busy

preparing for the visit, aided by a 30member contingent from the federal government, which has assumed responsibility for security, travel and the media.

Leapfrog: For the organizers, John Paul’s visit is a major logistical and security problem. For one thing, the Pope’s itinerary (page 13) is so tightly scheduled that the federal government ordered and paid for not one but two bullet-proof Popemobiles to ensure that

one is available for his use at every site along the tour. The gleaming white trucks are encased by heavy armor plating and are lined with red velvet imported from Paris. Assembled by Camions Pierre Thibault Inc. of Pierreville, Que., which specializes in making fire engines, the vehicles were built with $92,000 worth of components donated by General Motors of Canada and Canadian General Electric. The Vatican itself had offered Canada the use of any of its own six Popemobiles, but none could squeeze through the nine-foot-high cargo doors of the Canadian Armed Forces Hercules transport planes that

will leapfrog the vehicles across the country. At the same time, organizers will have to deal with an estimated 7,000 reporters, photographers and technicians, including 2,000 from outside Canada, who have been assigned to cover the papal visit. To cope with the onslaught, federal officials are providing 13 media

_ centres along the route.

At every function the Pope will be protected by six Vatican security guards, as well as an elite team of 10 Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Chief Supt. Jean Poirier, a 31year veteran of the RCMP and the man in charge of security for the tour, refused to discuss his strategy but he insisted that police will search and examine everything from the rooms the Pope visits to the candles and communion wafers used to celebrate mass. For his part, Poirier has studied videotapes of the pontiff and he accompanied him on a tour to Vienna last September to develop a sense of John Paul’s habits, especially the Pope’s

often spontaneous actions with crowds of worshipers, which can take him off his prescribed schedule. Declared O’Toole: “The Holy Father tends to give security men grey hair. If he sees a child, he will go to visit instead of staying on the red carpet where he is supposed to be.” In fact, tour organizers acknowledge that several anonymous threats have already been made against the Pope’s life in connection with this visit. And security forces know only too well that twice before John Paul has faced assassination attempts.

Flock: Tour organizers have assigned medical specialists to watch over the Pope and handle any emergencies among the crowds that flock to see him. At Toronto’s Downsview airport, organizers are setting up seven field hospitals in tents scattered over the 380-acre site, each staffed with three general practitioners, five nurses, a clerk and four volunteer assistants. A separate tent will house seven additional doctors, including specialists in ophthalmology, general surgery and psychiatry. Said Dr. H. Patrick Higgins, chief of medicine at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and chairman of the papal visit medical committee: “We are going to have enough doctors at the site so that if someone gets sick we will be able to give them the best medical attention available in only a few minutes.”

But the layers of planning necessary to accommodate the Pope’s lavish visit have already produced problems. For their part, native leaders said that the complexities of the trip have disappointed them, particularly the needs and expectations of the press and the federal government. Said James Antoine, 35, chief of the Fort Simpson Dene band council: “The feeling here is that it is a great honor and privilege to host the Pope. But my expectations were for a simple, down-to-earth meeting between him and native people. Now it is a struggle sometimes just to keep the Dene in the limelight.”

Despite the planners’ best efforts, the tour will disrupt the lives of Canadians elsewhere, too. In Edmonton, where John Paul is scheduled to celebrate mass before a crowd of 300,000 at Canadian Forces Base Namao on the city’s northern fringe on Sept. 17, organizers are urging local residents to give themselves “at least three or four hours” to get to the site. Cars will be banned from the area in favor of buses, taxis, bicycles and pedestrians, explained Geoffrey King, Edmonton’s director of traffic planning. Said King: “People have to realize that they are going to be spending the better part of the day there—a minimum of eight hours. They are not going to be able to zip in and out.”

In Ottawa, plans to hold an open-air

mass in a suburban equestrian park 10 km from downtown were scrapped last May after organizers concluded that it would have meant closing the main eastwest highway into the city. “There were too many risks in moving all of the people to the site,” said Rhéal Leroux, executive co-ordinator of the local visit. “Besides, closing the highway would have divided the population.” Instead, organizers moved the mass to a picturesque site downtown near the Ottawa River—a move that enraged the owners of the original site, who promptly con-

demned the tour organizers for inept planning and unnecessary secrecy. After forfeiting a $30,000 advance payment to the equestrian park, tour officials also had to spend $100,000 to level two large hills on the downtown site in order to ensure an unobstructed view of the papal mass.

Money: In several cities enterprising residents are hoping to cash in on the papal visit by opening their homes to out-of-town visitors—often for a steep fee. Vancouver-area farmer Ted Dreger, for one, is clearing land, renting outhouses and hiring security guards in hopes of accommodating as many as 800 tents, trailers and recreational vehicles. His farm, about 70 km east of the city, is adjacent to the Abbottsford airport, where John Paul will celebrate mass on Sept. 18. “There is a lot of money involved,” said Dreger, who plans to charge campers $150 for a minimum three-day stay. “Instead of sitting on his butt, a guy can put his head together and make some money.” Other area residents are charging between $50 and $100 a night for a room and breakfast.

Still, in most cities along the papal route there are signs that tour organizers may have overestimated the size of the turnout. In Winnipeg the local papal secretari-

at is running newspaper and radio advertisements in a last-minute attempt to assure residents that they will be able to travel to and from the papal mass with ease. Initial reports had predicted massive traffic snarls and a walk to the 130-acre site of between two and four kilometres. Said Rev. Michael Koryluk, a spokesman for the secretariat: “What is worrying a lot of people is being with a large group of people and getting lost or trampled to death.” Another Winnipeg organizer, Paul Herriot, said that the city’s three dioceses are concerned that they will lose money on the visit if too few people attend the mass, reducing the revenues from food and souvenir sales. Said Herriot: “If we have 375,000, we will be all right. But if we only have 250,000, we are in trouble.”

Criticized: Indeed, as the visit drew close, Catholic officials became increasingly concerned about the possibility of poor attendance. In a letter sent on Aug. 23 to all 195 parishes in the archdiocese of Toronto, Emmett Cardinal Carter criticized the media for unfounded and exaggerated reporting and suggested that the diocese’s reputation would be on the line at the Sept. 15 outdoor mass. And in Ottawa, Archbishop JosephAurele Plourde sent a letter to his priests in 114 parishes in May in which he criticized them for their mediocre response to the upcoming papal visit —particularly in regard to fund raising. “I sense a certain amount of indifference on the part of the clergy toward this visit,” the letter said, adding that many pastors had failed to impress upon their parishioners the significance of the tour. “To have failed to instruct the faithful in such a manner was a dereliction of priestly duty.”

Still, when John Paul kneels and kisses the tarmac at Quebec City airport on Sunday morning, church officials expect that most or all of the pretour problems will have faded into the background. Indeed, even with all of the inconveniences and commercialism that will accompany the Pope on his exhaustive coast-to-coast journey, there is little doubt that for millions of Canadians the chance to see, hear and worship with the pontiff will be the spiritual event of a lifetime. Said O’Toole: “Let’s face it, a lot of Catholics in this country have not seen the inside of a church in many years. If the Pope’s visit convinces even a few of them to take up the cudgels again and give it one last try, it will have been a complete success.”

With Diane Luckow in Vancouver, Hilary Mackenzie in Ottawa, John Mason in Halifax, Andrew Nikiforuk in Winnipeg, Sandra Souchotte in Yellowknife, Bonnie Woodworth in St. John ’s, Peggy Curran and Paul Waters in Montreal, Barbara Dacks and Don Wanagas in Edmonton, and Jane Mingay, Tom Harpur, Dave Silburt, Robert Block and Patricia Hluchy in Toronto.