World unites in mourning Pope's death

World leaders and commoners have come together in expressing their grief and admiration for Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday night.

    Almost everybody found in the Pope something to praise

    People from every continent and of many faiths found something in the life of the Pope to praise - be it his inspiration for the resistance to Communism in his Polish homeland, support for better relations with Muslims and Jews, or championing the cause of the poor.

    Feelings were intense in Poland, where the Church of St Anne in the heart of the Polish capital could not hold all those wanting to pay their respects to the Polish-born pontiff. Several thousand knelt outside in prayer.

    In Paris, the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral sounded 84 times - once for each year of the pontiff's life. In Canada, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec, said: "We all feel like orphans at this moment."

    In China, where worship is allowed only in government-sanctioned churches, believers sang hymns and prayed in Beijing's Southern Cathedral at Xuan Wu Men. The Beijing government, which cut off ties with the Vatican shortly after the officially atheist communist party took power in 1949, made no official comment.

    Common ground

    The Dalai Lama, in a message of condolence issued by his office in exile in the Himalayan resort town of Dharmsala, north India, said: "Pope John Paul II was a man I held in high regard. His experience in Poland, then a communist country, and my own difficulties with communists, gave us a common ground."

    World leaders echoed their
    citizens' admiration for the Pope

    The Pope, he added, "was very sympathetic to the Tibetan problem".

    World leaders echoed their citizens' admiration. "Pope John Paul II wrote history," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said. "Through his work and through his impressive personality he changed our world."

    US President George Bush said: "The world has lost a champion of human freedom, and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home."

    French President Jacques Chirac said history "will retain the imprint and the memory of this exceptional sovereign pontiff," while British Prime Minister Tony Blair said John Paul "never wavered, never flinched, in the struggle for what he thought was good and right".

    Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Pope "an outstanding public figure, whose name signifies the whole era," and said: "I have very warm recollections of meetings with the Pope. He was wise, responsive, and open for dialogue."

    Past tensions

    Patriarch Alexy II, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, said John Paul "personally, and through his works and ideas, has had a strong impact on the world. We grieve over the loss that has befallen the Roman Catholic Church."

    "Pope John Paul II wrote history"

    German Chancellor

    Gerhard Schroeder

    Tensions increased markedly between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and communist restrictions on religion faded.

    The Russian Orthodox leadership accused Catholics of poaching converts, and the dispute blocked a papal visit to Russia, a long-held wish of the pontiff.

    In Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe declared a period of national mourning and ordered flags across the country to fly at half-staff. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared seven days of national mourning.

    Tireless advocate

    More than just a spiritual guide, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, the Pope "was a tireless advocate of peace, a true pioneer in inter-faith dialogue and a strong force for critical self-evaluation by the church itself."

    The Pope was one of the leading
    figures of the 20th century

    Even in communist Cuba, Fidel Castro's Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, hastily called a news conference to express profound sorrow and fondly recall the Pope's visit to the island seven years ago.

    But in Zimbabwe, it took several hours for the state monopoly broadcaster to notice news of the Pope's death, so there were no immediate public expressions of grief.

    Bulletins rated the news below reports of President Robert Mugabe's news conference after his party claimed victory in parliamentary elections.

    In Bosnia, the Muslim member of the multi-ethnic Bosnian presidency, Sulejman Tihic, lauded him as a man who was "one of the most important personalities of the 20th century and worked for peace and tolerance among different religions".

    Sorrow expressed

    Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said the Pope would be remembered "as a distinguished religious figure, who devoted his life to defending the values of peace, freedom and equality".

    Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad also expressed their sorrow.

    Even those who were at times at odds with the Pope had kind words.

    Spain's ruling Socialist party, which clashed with the pontiff over gay marriage, abortion and divorce, issued a statement calling his death a loss for both Catholics and the international community, saying he "was one of the most important historical figures of the 20th century".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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