World Leaders Praise Pope as Force for Peace

From Reuters

Los Angeles Times

April 3, 2005

World leaders mourned the death of Pope John Paul today, some hailing him as a force for peace across the globe while others said he played a major role in the fall of the Iron Curtain.

"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," U.S. President George W. Bush said at the White House with his wife Laura beside him.

"Pope John Paul II was himself an inspiration to millions of Americans and to so many more throughout the world. We're grateful to God for sending such a man ... a hero for the ages."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the Pope was a man of peace and had been a great supporter of the United Nations.

"He ... (was) extremely concerned about the world we lived in, and like me, he also felt that in war, all are losers." said Annan.

Lech Walesa, who led Poland's Solidarity movement which won power after a decade of struggle and hastened the collapse of the whole Soviet bloc, said Polish-born John Paul inspired the drive to end communism in Eastern Europe.

"(Without him) there would be no end of communism or at least much later and the end would have been bloody," Walesa said.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose country was once divided by the Iron Curtain, said: "Pope John Paul II wrote history. By his efforts and through his impressive personality, he changed our world."

Many Catholics around the world prayed, and some wept, when news flashed across the globe of the death of the Pope, who led the Catholic Church for 26 years - the third-longest pontificate - and visited more countries than any predecessor.

The faithful in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas said special prayers for the man - widely dubbed "God's Athlete" at the start of his papacy - who revitalised the Church and brought his vision of Christianity to the masses.

China, which does not allow its Catholics to recognise the Vatican's authority, had taken the unusual step of expressing concern over the Pope's health and had said it hoped he would recover.

Bobby Brown, Israel-based international director of the World Jewish Congress, said the Catholic Church had become an ally of the Jewish people under the Pope after 2,000 years of Christian-Jewish hostility.

A decade after witnessing the fall of communism, the Pope fulfilled another of his dreams when he visited the Holy Land in March 2000, praying at Jerusalem's Western Wall and asking forgiveness for Catholic sins against Jews over the centuries.

"There is a shattering difference between the Catholic church of 20 to 50 years ago to today," said Brown.

Bells tolled at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, after news of the Pope's death.

Some people raised political controversies or struck discordant notes over John Paul's passing.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praised the Pope's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in his tribute.

"We should ... remember he preached world peace. When the United States invaded Iraq, for example, John Paul II said it was an illegal and immoral act," said Chavez.

"I cannot say I will regret his passing. As a godless atheist I never cared much for the church or the papacy," said Jerzy Urban, a spokesman of Poland's past communist rulers.

The Pope's staunch defence of Church orthodoxy upset others.

"Historians will judge the Pope harshly. His opposition to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV has condemned millions of people to die an agonising, needless death," said Peter Tatchell, a British gay and human rights activist.