Diplomatic coup: Popes funeral brings together bitter adversaries
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The April 8 funeral of Pope John Paul II may have
marked his last diplomatic coup when more than 200 heads of state and
government delegates -- some bitter adversaries -- came together to pay
their last respects.
U.S. President George W. Bush was just yards away from President Mohammed
Khatami of Iran, a country he has labeled part of an "axis of evil." Khatami, who met with the pope in 1999, said the April 8 gathering should be
a springboard for peace.
"It was very important for me to pay my respects to John Paul II," Khatami
told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
"The presence of such high-level world figures demonstrates the world's
respect" for the pope, he said April 8.
"I wish this day could be a moment that makes us hope for a future of peace,
not of conflict and hostility," said the Iranian president.
Representatives of troubled neighbors -- India and Pakistan as well as
Israel and the Palestinian National Authority -- were seated in the same
section reserved for heads of state in St. Peter's Square.
Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia
were among the political leaders there who had met with the pope and, at
times, had been praised and reproved by him.
During Katsav's visit to the Vatican in December 2002, Pope John Paul urged
him to make sure Christians could celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, West
Bank, which was occupied by the Israelis and was under curfew at the time.
During his February 2004 meeting with Qureia, the pope said people in the
Holy Land must not yield to "the temptation of discouragement, let alone to
hatred or retaliation."
The pope repeatedly voiced to Bush his strong disapproval over the invasion
of Iraq, most recently during the president's June 2004 visit to the
But Pope John Paul's funeral gave the world's leaders the opportunity for a
A senior Vatican official told reporters that "the funeral gave these
leaders a sense of freedom. They were not afraid that people would read
their actions politically."
"I saw Israelis, Muslims who greeted each other with gestures of affection,"he said.
Among the dignitaries Khatami greeted was Israel Singer, president of the
World Jewish Congress, reported the Italian news agency ANSA.
"One could see these persons who clearly felt freer" than they do, for
example, during U.N. assemblies or meetings, the senior Vatican official
Vatican Radio called the gathering of heads of state representing some 141
nations around the world "a sort of planetary parliament, assembled for a
special session under the sign of common prayer and human solidarity" toward
a pope who was loved by many near and far.
All of Latin America was represented at the funeral, while many leaders of
nations of the former Soviet Union, including Ukrainian President Viktor
Yushchenko, were present.
Polish Solidarity leader and former Polish President Lech Walesa and Vaclav
Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, were among the many
Other notable guests included Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and the kings,
queens or other royalty from Spain, Belgium, Great Britain and Jordan.
But the presence of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian threw Vatican-China
relations into disarray and reportedly triggered mainland China's decision
to scrap plans to send a delegation representing the government-approved
Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, was present for the pope's funeral in a leg
cast. With crutches, he gingerly maneuvered among the chairs to take his
After the funeral, Mexican President Vicente Fox told Italian media that the
funeral made him reflect on "what it is to be human and the importance of
existing for others, of serving ... the importance of commitment, of
solidarity, of inclusion, the importance of fighting to eradicate poverty in
Mexico. I was thinking a good deal about these things there in front of the
Noted absences included Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, according to
news agencies, did not want to anger Russia's Orthodox leaders by attending.
Russia was represented by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro sent the head of the country's Parliament to
represent the communist island nation, which the pope visited in 1998.
Castro instead paid his respects to the pope by attending an April 4
memorial Mass in Havana's cathedral.
News agencies said the record-breaking Pope John Paul set two more records
April 8: He attracted the largest number of official delegates ever to
attend a papal funeral, and his was the first papal funeral attended by a
sitting U.S. president.