World leaders voice sorrow, condolences over popes death
By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- From the former president of Poland who said Pope John Paul II's death was "as if Poland lost its mother," to Cuba's President
Fidel Castro, who declared three days of mourning in the communist country,
the world's political leaders voiced appreciation for the late pope.
The pope died April 2 at age 84, after a papacy of more than 26 years."He looked after Poland as a mother looks after her family," said Lech
Walesa, who led Poland's Solidarity movement, which helped bring about the
downfall of communist rule. Walesa, who was a friend of the pope, the former
archbishop of Krakow, became Poland's first democratically elected president
"When a mother passes away, the family often breaks down -- may this not
happen this time," Walesa told reporters.
In Cuba, Castro published a letter to the Vatican on the front page of the
newspaper Juventud Rebelde April 3, saying the pope's death was "sad news" and offering "the most heartfelt condolences of the Cuban people and the
Cuba has been an officially atheistic country since Castro came to power in
a 1959 revolution, but thawing relations with the church led to an official
visit by the pope in January 1998.
Castro ordered three days of mourning, to include flying flags at
half-staff, and suspension of events, including anniversary celebrations for
communist organizations and baseball games. He also had a book of
condolences opened for the public to sign.
In China, where there has been no such warming of relations with that
nation's communist government, Liu Jianchao, spokesman for China's Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement expressing his country's condolences.
China prohibits religious activity by any group not specifically permitted
by the government and does not recognize the Vatican's authority over
Catholics in that country.
Liu's statement said in part, "We hope the Vatican, under the new pope, will
create conditions conducive to the improvement of relations with China."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that apart from the pope's role as a
spiritual guide "he was a tireless advocate of peace, a true pioneer in
interfaith dialogue and a strong force for critical self-evaluation by the
Leaders of heavily Catholic countries joined in expressing the grief of
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the pope's death"represents the loss of one of the most towering world figures in recent
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the people of her country"received the news of his death with a deep sense of grief and loss. He was
a holy champion of the Filipino family and of profound Christian values that
make every one of us contemplate what is just, moral and sacred in life."
Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said Italians are "mourning the loss
of a father" who will be remembered as a man of freedom and justice.
In East Timor, President Xanana Gusmao said the pope's 1989 visit to the
island while it was still suffering under Indonesian rule "helped to break
down the wall of silence and indifference of the international community."
"Timor-Leste had the honor of receiving His Holiness Pope John Paul II in
difficult moments of our struggle for the recognition of the right to self
determination and independence," Gusmao said.
Irish President Mary McAleese said Pope John Paul's story "is that of a man
of immense faith and conviction and, in latter years, great personal
courage. He engaged with human culture and civilization in every aspect and
in every corner of the world."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the pope would be remembered for his
travels and because he preached world peace, citing the pontiff's opposition
to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
President Jacques Chirac of France said Pope John Paul was "an enlightened
and inspired priest," who "devoted himself to responding to the search for
sense and the thirst for justice that is expressed today on all continents."
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said Colombians were "divided between
sadness for his passing and joy for his example and message" and were being"called upon to reflect upon peace in this country. If we can make it happen
and the next generation lives in happiness, His Holiness will look upon us
with a smile and joy."
Even in countries with very few Catholics, the pope was recalled fondly.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said "Israel, the Jewish people and
the entire world lost today a great champion of reconciliation and
brotherhood between the faiths."
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the world has lost "a very important
religious figure who dedicated his life to peace and justice for all."
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, told the country's state news
agency that the pope had brought people belonging to different faiths closer
and had "rendered incredible services for peace."
The government of India declared a three-day mourning period, and President
Abdul Kalam described the pope as a church leader and statesman who worked
throughout his life for human dignity and for the needy and the oppressed.
"He tirelessly worked for peace on this planet and to establish an
international order based on equality and justice," Kalam said.
Walesa was joined by current and former leaders of former Soviet countries
in crediting the pope's role in peacefully changing the Soviet regime.
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic said Pope John Paul's role as a champion of
improved relations among all peoples, countries, civilizations and religions
brought him the respect of millions throughout the world.
"His place in history has long been ensured. Now he has taken his place in
eternity," he said.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev called the pope "the No. 1
humanist on the planet."
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany thanked the pope for helping lift
the yoke of communism from Europe.
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel said he remembered "immense joy" when
hearing in 1978 that Krakow Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected pope.
"I even think that we were so delighted that we danced for joy," he said."We felt that he was a great and charismatic man who will open the door to
an unprecedented renaissance of Christianity and, through it, to human
spirituality in general and who will fundamentally influence the future
destiny and political order of the world."
In England, Prime Minister Tony Blair said the world had lost a leader who
was revered by people of all faiths.
"He never wavered, never flinched, in the struggle for what he thought was
right and good," he said.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard called Pope John Paul "a pillar of
strength and an apostle of peace."
"He was not only a great moral and religious figure, but he was also a very
significant political figure in the best sense of that term," Howard said.
He said he fondly remembered his talks with the pope during a visit to Rome
two years ago.
"Although his health had then begun to fade, he retained a lively sense of
humor, a fond recollection of Australia," Howard said.
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said as pope "this noble son of Poland
achieved an extraordinary impact, not only as a source of spiritual
guidance, but as a true apostle of peace." He said Pope John Paul's visits
to Canada, especially his 1987 trip to the native peoples in the North and
his participation in World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002, were particularly
important and unforgettable.
"Throughout his papacy, and in his final days, we were all -- regardless of
religious belief -- privileged and moved to bear witness to the grace,
courage and resolve of this remarkable man. Our grief today is the grief of
the world," Martin said.