Toronto - Ontario will make celebration of the life of Pope John Paul II on annual event following passage of legislation naming a day in his honour.
April 2 is now Pope John Paul II Day after a private member's bill received the full support of the Ontario legislature on Mar. 17 and royal assent just nine days later.
The Pope died April 2, 2005. He will be canonized along with Pope John XXIII on April 27.
Liberal MPP Dipika Damerla sponsored the private member's bill. Since May 2013, Damerla had periodically introduced the bill, asking for unanimous consent from the house to move it forward.
Her efforts came on the heels of attempts by Conservative MP 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 was 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 worked overtime to ensure the bill would pass in time to ensure Pope John Paul II would be celebrated this year. This will be the first piece of legislation to go forward in her name.
"Private member's bills have a low chance of becoming law, and that's why we've seen so many people introduce bills like this," she said.
Damerla says she had spoken to Klees before taking up his cause as her own, and he congratulated her on the bill's success.
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, said Damerla.
"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."
Her riding is close to the John Paul II Polish Cultural Centre near St. Maximilian Kolbe parish.
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.
"His pious leadership helped provide Poles with hope, courage and resilience in the struggle against communist oppression," she said.
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 for World Youth Day 2002.
"Faith allows us to accomplish things that we would not otherwise be able to accomplish. It's that belief in something bigger than ourselves. Those millions of people, the pope is a powerful symbol of that faith and I am pleased we can have a day to commemorate that," said Damerla. "I would have been delighted if I could have done it last year, and I would be just as pleased if I could do it next year. The important thing is to get it done."