Page 1296 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 5 April 2005

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The pope told how Archbishop Polding had pleaded strongly for the rights of Aboriginal Australians to keep the traditional lands upon which their society depended. He told indigenous Australians that in 1986 the church still supported their rights. This speech was among the most contentious yet given by a high-profile visitor to Australia. The historian Geoffrey Blainey described it as “an act of political meddling that has few parallels in Australian history”. Despite such criticism, the pope’s sentiments and the weight of the Catholic Church added impetus to the land rights movement and the cause of reconciliation. The pope was passionate about human rights, particularly the rights of children.

Pope John Paul II was a complex man. A dramatist and playwright, he felt a calling to the priesthood and began clandestine study under the Nazi regime. He was ordained in 1946. In 1958, Pope Pius XII appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Cracow.

The pope became a cardinal in 1967 and participated in the Vatican II Council. He spoke eight languages, learning one of them—Spanish—only after his elevation to the papacy. In 1981 he was the victim of an attempted assassination, shot by a Turkish extremist in St Peter’s Square. Two years later he visited his would-be assassin in prison. Pope John Paul II visited Australia twice as head of the Catholic Church. The second visit was in 1995 to beatify Mary MacKillop.

Each generation gives rise to only a few individuals of the stature of Pope John Paul II. I am sure the Assembly will join me in sympathising with Canberra’s Roman Catholic community on the death of a man whose influence extended far beyond his own religious flock.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella—Leader of the Opposition): On behalf of the opposition I rise to join with the Chief Minister and my Assembly colleagues to give voice in this condolence motion at the death of Pope John Paul II.

Much has been said, and I suspect that much will be repeated today as people voice how they feel about the pope, but the pope had quite a large place in our house. My mother met him when, as Bishop of Cracow, he came to Canberra just before he became pope. I am sure, as Mr Stefaniak will elaborate, those who met him—from whatever job he was doing—were just amazed at the capacity and individuality of the man.

He was a man who was great in the many things he did, whether it was as pope—the leader of the Catholics—as an author, as a human rights advocate or indeed as a rugby player for Poland. This was an individual who had many gifts, all of which he was willing to use for the betterment of his world. He was a great man; a man of great strength.

The thing that stands out most in my mind about him is that the pope was not a man who was embittered at all by life. Indeed he was a man who had encountered much suffering but, rather than turning it inward and becoming insular, as some do, he used that suffering as a spur to enable him to do even greater things. We are talking about a man who, as a child, lost his mother and his brother, a man who suffered under the years of Nazi oppression in Poland, a man who then suffered under many decades of communist oppression in Poland and a man who was shot.

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