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Howard could miss Pope's funeral

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard has said it is uncertain whether he will be able to attend Friday's funeral for Pope John Paul II, which is predicted to be the largest gathering of world leaders in living memory.

Before the day was announced, it told Sydney radio 2UE: "It depends on exactly when it (the funeral) is."

"I would like to go because of the enormous significance of this man to the history of the world and out of respect to the Catholic community in Australia," he said. "However, it's just depending on when it is that will govern whether I can go or not."

This week, Mr Howard is hosting visits by the Indonesian President and the Malaysian Prime Minister.

He later told ABC radio he had held the Pope in very high esteem.

"As a non-Catholic Christian, can I say I admired him immensely. He was a wonderful person," he said. "He spoke for Christendom in its totality on most issues.

"There were some issues, obviously, there were ranges of views within Christendom but by and large, the central tenants of the Christian faith are articulated by all denominations of Christianity."

Mr Howard said the fact the Pope opposed the Iraq war, which Mr Howard had supported with Australian troops, did not change Mr Howard's view.

"I'm aware that not everything he said supported some of the views that I had or that Australia had," he said.

"But the totality of his life was a magnificent witness to his religion and also a wonderful demonstration of the importance of the individual, the spiritual content of an individual and the inherent right of every man and woman to be free."

The Vatican announced yesterday that Pope John Paul II's funeral will be celebrated at 6:00 pm Friday Sydney time (10:00 am in Rome), in St. Peter's Square, with interment will follow in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica.

The decision was made yesterday by the 65 cardinals already in Rome.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that until the funeral St. Peter's Basilica would close only three hours each day for cleaning, or when there were no more people in line to pay their last respects.

Pope John Paul "had left no indication" of where he wanted to be buried, so the cardinals decided to have him laid to rest with other popes in the basilica, the spokesman said.

The spokesman said the funeral Mass would be celebrated by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, and concelebrated by other cardinals and the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic churches.

PM may not attend Pope's funeral (Daily Telegraph/Australian Associated Press 4/4/05)
Pope's funeral scheduled for April 8; interment in St. Peter's grotto (Catholic News Service 4/4/05)


5 Apr 2005