On May 11th 2014, the Senate Standing Committee on Human rights which I am chair of, met to discuss Bill C-266: An Act to Establish Pope John Paul II Day. As I sat in the hearing, I became nostalgic of my family’s past experiences with Pope John Paul II and the Vatican. I would like to share some of these experiences with you. 

Pope Paul VI

My father, Sherali Bandali Jaffer, has always believed that religion should not separate, but rather, unite us. Therefore, even as a Muslim man, he has always had the utmost respect for the Vatican. In 1969, he met Pope Paul VI and provided accommodations for his entourage on their visit to Uganda. It was not long after this that my family and I were forced to leave our home country of Uganda as refugees.

My father Sherali Bandali Jaffer with Pope John Paul II - 1993 Kampala

After re-establishing himself in Canada, my father took the first opportunity to return to his birth country of Uganda. It was a point of great pride to return to Uganda and be able to host Pope John Paul II in 1993.

My father Sherali Bandali Jaffer with Catholic leadership in Kampala 1993

During the Pope’s visit to Uganda in 1993, the papal entourage stayed at my father’s hotel. He provided members of the Vatican with free accommodation and meals during their stay in Uganda.

My father Sherali Bandali Jaffer with Pope John Paul II - 1993 Kampala

For his service, my father was rewarded with a medal personally presented to him by Pope John Paul II. He also received three rosaries from the Pope, one of which I was lucky enough to receive as a gift. It remains one of my most prized possessions.

My father Sherali Bandali Jaffer with Pope John Paul II - 1993 Kampala

Yesterday, during the daily phone call I share with my father, I told him about the Pope John Paul II bill. I could hear the pride in his voice as he reminisced about his experience with the Pope. I listened as he recounted the time he spent with the Pope; he remembered the emotion he felt when Pope John Paul II bestowed blessings upon him.

In his 26 year papacy, Pope John Paul II was instrumental in emphasizing unity across all religions. He will forever be remembered and revered around the world as a symbol of peace and pluralism. These are values my father greatly admired and strived to instill in my siblings and me.