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World leaders honour Pope

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said yesterday he was "deeply saddened" by the death of Pope John Paul II and called him "a tireless advocate of peace".

"I was deeply saddened by the death of Pope John Paul II," he said. "Quite apart from his role as a spiritual guide to more than a billion men, women and children, he was a tireless advocate of peace, a true pioneer in interfaith dialogue and a strong force for critical self-evaluation by the Church itself."

The UN secretary general said he was always struck by the Holy Father's commitment to having the United Nations become a moral centre where all the nations of the world feel at home.

Mr Annan offered his "deepest condolences" to Catholics and others around the world who were touched by the pope's life of prayer and lifelong dedication to nonviolence and peace.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the world had lost a religious leader who was "revered across people of all faiths and none".

French President Jacques Chirac said he was "deeply moved" and that all of France was in mourning.

"This mourning deeply marks France as well as every French person, who identifies with the message of the Catholic Church," he said.

Meanwhile the people in Pope John Paul II's hometown in Poland fell to their knees and wept on Saturday night as news of his death reached them at the end of a special Mass in the church where he worshipped as a boy.

"His life has come to an end. Our great countryman has died," parish priest the Rev. Jakub Gil told worshippers.

In Warsaw, church bells rang and traffic halted. At Pilsudski Square, the former Victory Square where he conducted a mass in 1979 in then-communist Poland, people laid flowers in the form of a cross. Others walked to church holding candles.

In the Holy Land where Jesus walked, Jews, Muslims and Christians paid homage to Pope John Paul II's tireless efforts to embrace people of different faiths.

Though his record was not without controversy, the Pope used his frequent homilies and travels to pursue religious reconciliation. His visits to a synagogue in Rome and a mosque in Damascus, Syria, were the first by a pontiff to Jewish and Muslim houses of worship.

Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres said the pope "embodied the best that is within all mankind as well as the commonness of humanity. ... His actions and statements transformed relations between the Catholic and Jewish faiths, and made a fundamental impact on the struggle against anti-Semitism. We will miss him."

In Cairo, the Arab League expressed sorrow Saturday for the pope's death, calling him a man of peace who encouraged dialogue between nations and religions.

"This is a sad day, we are very sad to lose him," said Hesham Youssef, a spokesman for the secretary general of the league, a group widely seen as a mouthpiece for the Arab world. "We will never forget his noble stance in support of the oppressed people, including the Palestinians," Youssef said.

Fidel Castro's communist government fondly recalled Pope John Paul II's visit to the island seven years ago as it sent condolences Saturday to Roman Catholics after learning of the pontiff's death.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said the nation's leadership and people had received the news of John Paul's passing "with profound sorrow." Perez Roque said the Cuban government would send a high level delegation to the pope's funeral.

China's government media announced the pontiff's death in a cursory bulletin by the official news agency.

"In the last days of the pope's life, the Catholic Patriotic Association of China and the Chinese Bishops College extended good wishes for his health," Xinhua news agency reported.

In Mexico City church bells tolled across the capital and mourners draped a black bunting above the entrance of the Basilica of Guadalupe, where the pope canonised the first American Indian saint three years ago.

In the USA, President George Bush said the Catholic Church has "lost its shepherd".

"The world has lost a champion of human freedom and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home," he said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair singled out his devotion to the poor.

"Throughout a hard and often difficult life, he stood for social justice and on the side of the oppressed, whether as a young man facing the Nazi occupation in Poland or later in challenging the communist regime," he said.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono praised him for his tolerance.

"We know him as a figure who was very tolerant and always supportive of all activities to build harmony and tolerance between religions, especially the inter-faith dialogues," he said.

Lech Walesa, former Polish President and Solidarity leader paid tribute to the Pope's struggles on behalf of the Polish people.

"I think we shall keep discovering how much the Holy Father worked for us and struggled for us. He spoke to us through his illness and through his suffering served to the very end ... [Without him] there would be no end of communism or at least much later and the end would have been bloody."

World leaders honour Pope (Sunday Herald-Sun 3/4/05)
Snapshots of Reactions to Pope's Death (The Guardian/Associated Press 3/4/05)
'The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd' (Sydney Morning Herald 4/4/05)


4 Apr 2005