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The memorable funeral of Pope John Paul II The world bids farewell to the apostle of peace and concord

    19 January 2021 Tuesday

    Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, censed the altar before Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, stepped up to begin celebrating the mass before purple-vested bishops and black-suited dignitaries seated on gilded chairs arrayed on the esplanade.
    In the square beyond were 300,000 mourners including special sections for nationals of the late pope’s native Poland and for the handicapped, part of a crowd of about a million ordinary mourners in the area around St Peter’s, according to the ANSA news agency.

    Millions more were following the mass on television around the world.

    UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Britain’s Prince Charles, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and US President George W. Bush were among those sitting on the right side of the great central portal of the basilica, draped with a red velvet curtain adorned with a tapestry depicting the resurrection of Christ.

    Religious leaders included Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, titular leader of the Greek Orthodox Church. Other Orthodox leaders stayed away, including Alexis II, patriarch of Moscow.

    It was one of pope’s abiding regrets that he was never able to visit Russia or to make headway in reconciling the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

    An hour and a half before the mass began, the body of the late pontiff, which has been lying in state in the basilica since late Monday, was placed in a cypress-wood coffin.

    In the ceremony led by Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo -- the official, known as the cardinal camerlengo, who is in temporary charge of the Vatican until a new pope is elected -- the pope’s face was covered with a white silk veil.

    Sealed into the coffin along with the pope’s remains were silver and bronze medals minted by the Vatican during John Paul II’s 26-year reign, and a copy of an accounting of his life and work, sealed inside a lead tube, to be delivered during the mass by Cardinal Ratzinger.

    The coffin was then closed in the presence of the main prelates in the Curia, as the Vatican administration is known.

    The requiem mass followed centuries of solemn ritual befitting the final farewell to the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Cardinal Ratzinger delivered his homily, or sermon, containing the eulogy after recitations of psalms and the Liturgy of the Word, or readings from the Bible.

    Afterward, the assembly prayed for the deceased pope, for “God’s holy Church”, for the people of all nations, for the soul of deceased pontiffs, for the soul of all the dead, and finally for themselves.

    Then came the Eucharist, the most sacred part of the mass, at which communion was served. It concluded with a prayer asking God to “welcome your servant, our pope”. The mass then proceeded with a ritual act commending the body to God, followed by a silent prayer.

    The apostolic vicar for the City of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, pronounced a prayer for the Church of Rome, the pope being the Bishop of Rome.

    The mass concluded with an oration by Ratzinger in which he asks God to give “the comfort of faith and hope” to the Church “bereft of its pastor”.

    The third part of the funeral ceremony is celebrated in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica where the coffin was borne after the mass. This ritual was again presided by Cardinal Camerlengo Somalo, in the presence of the Curia’s highest prelates as well as Ruini and relatives of the pope. It ended with the placing of the cypress coffin in a second, zinc coffin which in turn is placed in an oak casket.

    The pope’s remains were placed in a tomb occupied for 37 years by Pope John XXIII until it was vacated in 2000.

    John Paul II himself presided over the transfer of John XXIII’s remains to the basilica above, in the chapel of St. Jerome, upon his beatification.

    The late pope is buried near Benedict XV, whose tomb lies beside that of John Paul II’s immediate predecessor, John Paul I, who died just 33 days after his election in 1978.

    His other neighbors are Innocent IX, Julius III and Paul VI, as well as 17th-century Queen Christina of Sweden, who gave up her throne, embraced Catholicism and came to live in Rome.

    Near the tomb of Paul VI, situated directly below the high altar of St. Peter’s, is what archeologists believe to be the grave of St. Peter, the first of Christ’s disciples, whom Roman tradition regards as the first pope.

    St. Peter’s crypt, covering the entire area below the basilica, has yielded a wealth of artifacts, not only of the Roman Catholic Church but also of early Christian civilization.

    Restorations of the late ninth century shed light on the structure of the earlier basilica built in the fourth century by order of the Emperor Constantine, notably the support pillars and columns and traces of the perimeter wall.

    The present basilica was built over a period of decades beginning in the reign of Pope Julius II (1503-1513).

    Another layer lies below the crypt, a veritable “city of the dead” from ancient Roman times with streets, chapels and some stunning frescoes.

    ‘Order for the funeral rites’

    The three-hour ceremony for the funeral closely followed the instructions left by the pontiff himself in 1998.

    The liturgy, established by the “Order for the funeral rites of the Roman pontiff”, emphasized the aspect of resurrection after death but included the awesome words of the requiem mass that have been recited and chanted in Roman Catholic churches since the 13th century.

    The ceremony opened with the traditional words of the requiem mass: “Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domini: et lux perpetua luceat ei” -- “Grant him eternal rest, Lord, and let perpetual light shine on him”.

    In solemn Gregorian plainchant, the Sistine Chapel choir recited the most solemn parts of the mass, such as the kyrie, the sanctus, the benedictus and the agnus dei. The choir of men and boys, which traces its origins back a thousand years, performs at all major pontifical ceremonies.

    Some of the music was specially composed for the funeral rites by the choir’s director, Giuseppe Liberto.

    With the words of the Christian gospel open on top of the pope’s plain coffin of cypress wood, the 160 members of the Sacred College jointly participated in, or “concelebrated” the mass led by Cardinal Ratzinger, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief and for many years the right-hand man to the pope.

    The funeral rites were sung partly in Latin, the official language of the Church, but also in modern languages officially introduced into the liturgy by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-65).

    In a reminder that most of the early popes were Greek-speakers, an important part of the mass was sung and recited in Greek according to the office of the dead of the Byzantine rite used by Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches.

    The first part of the service followed the ordinary form of the mass -- the service of penitence, thanksgiving, peace and reconcilation known as the Eucharist that Roman Catholics recite in churches all over the world.

    The only difference was the scale, with the backdrop of Michelangelo’s vast basilica, the crowd of hundreds of thousands stretching as far as the eye could see, and the massed ranks of cardinals, bishops and world leaders.

    As in any parish church, the words of the gospel were read by members of the congregation.

    The chanted psalms included the pope’s favorite No. 22 in the Catholic tradition (the 23rd in the Protestant churches), which begins: “The Lord is is my shepherd, I shall not want...

    The funeral rites were the start of a nine-day period of mourning and thanksgiving for the pope’s ministry. Once this period is concluded, cardinals will enter the Vatican for a secret conclave beginning on April 18 to elect the pope’s successor.

    A sea of mourners

    A vast swell of mourners joined in prayer as the funeral got under way -- for some “the last moment of a saint”.

    Roman Catholics and other mourners from all corners of the world made up a sea of humanity filling the colonnaded square on a generally sunny but windy day. Despite the solemnity of the occasion and the tears of many, there was also a certain air of serenity among the mourners.

    “For me, this is a possibility to live the last moment of a saint”, said Janin Marco, of Madrid, in the midst of the thronging crush. “Today is the beginning of a new chapter, not the end”, her friend Rosa Mesa said, as many in the crowd waved the flags of the pope’s native Poland.

    Thousands had spent the night sleeping in the streets of the neighborhood wrapped in sleeping bags, blankets or their national flags.

    Those same flags -- from Brazil, the United States, Greece, Lebanon and many other countries, but mostly Poland -- blew in the wind while a helicopter hovered overhead.

    The pilgrims had to brave an intense crush to get in. At one point a young girl was carried away unconscious on a stretcher by six first-aid medics, and police at time struggled to control the surging throng.

    “Patience wins souls”, said Miriam Lazic, a pilgrim from the Croatian port town of Dubrovnik. Nearby stood five nuns from the Philippines and India, their black and white robes barely visible in the multitude.

    Asked why he had come so far, Macek Karowicz from Lublin, Poland, replied simply: “Why do you go to your father’s funeral? You don’t know why; you have to”.

    Sara Nigon, a 21-year-old student from a Catholic university in Minnesota, sat on the pavement by a group of American students and priests who, for their part, were still sleeping on the cobblestones.

    Nigon said she was there for the pope, but also the event. “I realize that this is probably one of the biggest events in history, this many people coming together to honour one man”.

    “We just wanted to say goodbye to the greatest Pole in history”, said Aneta Wisniewska, who had flown from Poland for the funeral.

    “It will be completely different being in Rome from watching it on TV”, she said, after folding her blanket near the blocked-off bridge that leads to the main artery toward St. Peter’s Square.

    Gathered around a guitar, a clutch of Italians sang along to Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”.

    For the thousands of pilgrims who had made it past the first barriers, all that was left to do was to wait in the Via della Conciliazione leading to the basilica, where giant screens beamed archive images of John Paul II’s 26-year pontificate.

    To accommodate the unprecedentedly large crowd of mourners, the Roman and Italian authorities laid on food, bottled water, sleeping accommodations, first-aid facilities and even portable toilets.

    John Paul II had over his long reign established a close relationship with people of Rome, his own diocese, and there was great sorrow in the city, which was closed down for the funeral.

    The adulation of millions of people mourning Pope John Paul II was sending a message to world leaders to work for peace and humanity, a French cardinal said.

    Jean-Marie Lustiger, former archbishop of Paris, said people were looking for “witnesses” to stand firm in a world that was losing its reference points under globalization.

    “Instinctively, in the whole world, people felt John Paul II was a credible man who defended what was best in people, who acted neither for power, nor for money, nor for vengeance, but for people.

    “This immense crowd, this emotion -- it’s a message that the leaders of this world should listen to and understand”.

    The 78-year-old prelate was one of the dozens of cardinals who will meet from April 18 to elect a successor to John Paul II.

    Lines of hundreds of thousands of mourners stretched for kilometers from the Vatican two days before the funeral, although the numbers had eased to tens of thousands the following day after police began closing off the queues.

    World stops to remember pope

    The world stopped to pay tribute to Pope John Paul II, who led the 1.1 billion Catholics for 26 years.

    Following are snapshots from around the world of how people were honoring the memory of the pope as church bells tolled around the globe in homage:

    CRACOW, Poland: Tolling church bells and wails of sirens across Poland marked the start of the funeral, as cities came to a standstill to remember their most famous son.

    Hundreds of thousands flooded back onto the streets of the city, where Karol Wojtyla, as the pope was christened, spent 40 years of his adult life hours after one million people gathered on the edge of the city for a special mass.

    Giant screens had been erected on the city esplanade to allow the crowds to watch the funeral in Rome.

    On the eve of the funeral, at 9:37 pm (1937 GMT), the precise time of the pope’s death the previous Saturday, the vast crowd at the mass, many dressed in white, had observed a minute’s silence in homage to the pope, before united in singing hymns.

    NEW YORK: The lights of New York’s Empire State Building were dimmed overnight in a solemn tribute on the eve of the funeral.

    The skyscraper’s illuminations, which often change color to reflect various events and national days, were darkened at 9:27pm -- the time of his death in his bed at the Apostolic Palace.

    “We solemnly honor this great man of peace and the legacy he leaves for future generations”, said the Empire State Building spokesman, Howard Rubenstein.

    BEIJING: From Beijing’s old official churches to underground congregations in the countryside, China’s Catholics were marking the burial of the pope despite an official blackout on the ceremony.

    Print media paid no attention to the funeral, and state television said it would also ignore the event, leaving it to individual believers to commemorate the pontiff.

    Places of worship in other parts of China reported plans to commemorate the pope in low-key ways, from the Xikai Church in the northern port city of Tianjin to the Xujiahui church in the eastern metropolis of Shanghai.

    TOKYO: Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito joined 1,500 Catholics, diplomats and government officials at a Tokyo church for a mass to mourn the pope ahead of the start of the funeral in Rome.

    Naruhito, on behalf of his father, Emperor Akihito, made a deep bow before a photograph of the pontiff as he offered a small bouquet of white flowers at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

    MANILA: Hundreds of people gathered at a central park in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, for a prayer rally and mass to mark the funeral.

    Under a searing tropical sun, nuns, priests, and entire families assembled at the venue where John Paul II celebrated a mass attended by several million people during a World Youth rally in January 1995.

    Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales celebrated the mass at the park festooned with giant streamers of the Polish pontiff kissing an unidentified Filipino child. “Pope John Paul II, We Love You”, read one giant streamer.

    CALCUTTA, India: A giant television screen was set up at Mother House, the mission established by Catholic nun Mother Teresa to take care of the sick and poor in the sprawling Indian city of Calcutta.

    “We offered our morning prayer for the Holy Father”, said Sister Christie of the Missionaries of Charity. “Nuns of the Missionaries of Charity will also hold a special mass after the funeral”.

    MEXICO CITY: Thousands of faithful gathered in Mexico City as one of the popemobiles used by John Paul II made a slow procession through the city, its seat occupied by a giant picture of the pontiff.

    Escorted by dozens of police cars, motorcycles and a helicopter, the popemobile travelled 20 kilometers through the city, visited five times by the pope during his reign. Mexico has the world’s second-largest number of Catholics after Brazil.

    RABAT: A requiem mass was held in memory of John Paul II attended by King Mohammad VI and several members of the Moroccan government.

    Rabat Archbishop Vincent Landel recalled the pope’s 1985 visit to Muslim Morocco, quoting the pontiff who told young Moroccans at the time: “I believe Christians and Muslims must recognize with joy the religious values which we share”.

    LOURDES, France: Some 4,000 people attended a mass at Lourdes, in Southern France, celebrated by Bishop Jacques Perrier. On the altar was placed a simple golden rose presented to the St. Pius X Basilica by the pope during his last pilgrimage to the shrine in August 2004.

    Poland mourns a native son

    As tens of thousands of Poles headed to Rome for the funeral of the man who often referred to himself as “a son of Poland”, those who stayed behind in his homeland paid vibrant tributes to him on the eve of his funeral and prepared to bring the distant ceremony into their city squares and living rooms.

    In Cracow, where Karol Wojtyla, as the pope was christened, spent 40 years of his adult life, one million people gathered in a vast field on the edge of the city for a mass in his memory.

    The gathering had set off in the late afternoon from central Market Square in Cracow for a silent, white march in homage to John Paul II.

    Leading the march, youths carried white flags and banners inscribed with the words “Holy father, we thank you”. Most of the participants were dressed in white, and some carried white flowers. The priests who celebrated mass at the esplanade wore white, symbolizing belief in the resurrection.

    “For us, white is a symbolic color, linked with the pope. It is also the sign of hope. We’re not here in sadness even if the event is sad”, said 21-year-old theology student Lukasz Boronski. “We thank the Holy Father for having left us so many gifts”.

    At 9:37 p.m. (1937 GMT), the precise time of the pope’s death the previous Saturday, the great crowd observed a minute’s silence in homage to the pontiff. The esplanade was then transformed into a sea of candlelight, flickering in the spring breeze as the crowd united to sing hymns.

    On his first visit to Cracow after being elected pope, John Paul II said he loved “every street, every corner, every cobblestone of this city”.

    Around the country at the same time, candles were lit, horns and sirens sounded, moments of silence were marked in honor of the pope.

    Warsaw’s Jan Pawel II Avenue, a main thoroughfare in the center of the capital, came to a standstill at 9:37 p.m. as the capital paid tribute to the pope.

    Sirens on emergency vehicles blared, car horns sounded, people stood in front of makeshift altars created on street signs with pictures of the pope and white and red Polish flags, to reflect in silence.

    At their feet, the pavement was covered with candles of all shapes, colors and sizes. Children lit new ones and placed them on the ground. Adults, too, added to the lake of color and light, and gazed at the portrait of a smiling John Paul II on the street sign where Jan Pawel Avenue meets Mirowski Square. Candles were left on islands in the median strip, formed into hearts on a small lawn.

    Even an hour after the tribute at 9:37 p.m., people were still arriving at the avenue, plastic bags containing candles clutched in their hands.

    It was in Warsaw on June 10, 1979 at a mass celebrated in Pilsudski Square that John Paul II said, “Let the spirit come down and renew the face of this land”. And quoting the words of Christ, he exhorted his hearers, “Do not be afraid”.

    His words were taken by Poles as encouragement to stand up to the oppressive despotism of the Soviet-backed communist regime.

    It was the support of the pope that heartened men like Lech Walesa and Adam Michnik to establish the Solidarity free trade union as the first major step to defy the communist regime, in the campaign that eventually led in 1989 to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and, in 1991, to the demise of the Soviet Union.

    The renewal called for by John Paul II has long since become reality, with Poland shedding communism, joining the European Union and becoming one of the strongest economies in the bloc.

    Even in death, John Paul II united Warsaw and renewed the city’s vitality and hope.

    A candle-lit vigil was held at Krywlany airport in the eastern Polish city of Bialystok, where the pope celebrated mass in 1991. And flowers were laid and candles lit in tribute to John Paul II in Oswiecim, where the pope celebrated a mass in the former Nazi death camp of Birkenau in 1979.

    In the southern town of Wadowice, where the pope was born, 10,000 young people attended a special mass for the pope. Long after the service had ended, worshippers were still praying at the town square, and in front of the house where Karol Wojtyla was born, candles shimmered in the night.

    United Europe, the monument to the pope from the east

    John Paul II revolutionized the papacy with his formidable energy and intellectual abilities, but his most lasting memorial was to be achieved in the field of politics: the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

    The pope lent his immense prestige to the outlawed Polish trade union Solidarity and triggered a chain reaction that led to the fall, like so many dominoes, of the pro-Soviet regimes which had held half the continent in thrall for 40 years.

    It is said that what ensured that Polish public opinion accepted the country’s membership of the European Union was the fact that John Paul II was firmly in favor of it.

    Though he gave the papacy a higher profile than it had ever had before, he also dismayed many of his admirers with his conservative views on a wide range of social issues, most notably on birth control.

    A warm and earthy figure, the pope took his message directly to his flock of 1.1 billion in a series of foreign tours, the scale of which was unprecedented in Vatican history.

    The first non-Italian pope in four-and-a-half centuries, and the first from Eastern Europe, Karol Wojtyla imposed his own style and agenda, eschewing the pomp that had surrounded his forebears and seeking contact with ordinary people.

    His travels took him to at least half the countries of the world where he argued for peace, denounced human rights abuses and deplored the decadence of the modern world.

    He left one of his most momentous acts to the twilight of his papacy, an attempt to purify the soul of the Roman Catholic Church with a sweeping apology for sins and errors committed during its 2,000 years of its existence, implicitly invoking the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Holocaust.

    The future pope was born the son of an officer (some accounts say of a sergeant) in the Austro-Hungarian army, himself the son of a tailor, in Wadowice, a small town in Southern Poland not far from Cracow. His mother died when he was eight, as later did a sister and a much-loved elder brother.

    Thereafter his father looked after him, teaching him German and football. He entered the Jagiellonian University in the former royal city of Cracow, where he became fascinated by theater, and wrote a number of plays.

    He was never a member of the Polish resistance, but the experience of war caused him to consider the priesthood. The presence of the Auschwitz death camp barely an hour’s drive from Cracow undoubtedly influenced his views on the sanctity of life.

    He became a parish priest in a small village in Southern Poland and rose steadily through the Church hierarchy, eventually rising to the rank of cardinal.

    When he was elected pope in October 1978 after seven inconclusive rounds of voting, John Paul II was 58, a robust sportsman and a relative outsider amid the vast bureaucracy of the Holy See.

    He also had a gift for public relations, addressing journalists in their own languages and remembering their faces. He knew how to use the media in a way quite unknown to his predecessors.

    The advent of a Polish pope provided an immeasurable boost to Polish morale. Despite Soviet warnings, the communist authorities were unable to head off the pope’s 1979 visit, when he appeared before million-strong crowds speaking powerfully for human rights.

    The upshot was a reinvigorated anti-communist working class movement, the birth of Solidarity, and the steady thaw of the communist glacier that lay over Central and Eastern Europe.

    For all the pope’s immense popularity, his moral teachings -- notably on family values, extramarital sex, homosexuality, birth control, euthanasia and abortion -- alienated many Catholics in the West.

    Reformers, the young and congregations in the grip of a devastating AIDS epidemic were increasingly dismayed at his refusal to give ground on the issues of contraception and the use of condoms.

    John Paul’s policy, however, was not to move the Church beyond the liberalizing Vatican II Council of the 1960s.

    The pope was by no means an unconditional supporter of the values of capitalism and democracy. He frequently decried unemployment, poverty and the wealth gap between North and South.

    In 1981 he nearly died in an assassination attempt when a Turkish extremist, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot him at close range in St. Peter’s Square. One bullet went through his abdomen and another narrowly missed his heart. He survived after extensive intestinal surgery, though his health was affected thereafter.

    The pope said the Virgin Mary had saved his life and had one of the bullets inserted into the diamond-studded crown of the Virgin of Fatima.

    He met virtually every significant head of state or government, from US presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to Kremlin leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, from Emperor Hirohito of Japan to Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, and Arab monarchs and presidents to Israeli prime ministers.

    The United States, the Soviet Union and then Russia, the countries of the former Soviet bloc, Mexico, Israel, Jordan, the Palestine Liberation Organization and a score of other countries established diplomatic ties with the Vatican during his papacy.

    He had a lively sympathy for countries and peoples oppressed by powerful neighbors and external forces. He frequently expressed his support for Lebanon during its long war, and in September 1982 he received Yasser Arafat at the Vatican only a month after the Palestinian leader was turned out of Lebanon by the Israelis with US support.

    John Paul II became the first pope to pray in a synagogue, in Rome; the first to enter a mosque in a Muslim country, in Damascus, Syria; and the first to preside at a meeting of the heads of all the major world religions -- at a day of prayer for peace at Assisi in 1986.

    Though his final years were a long story of declining health, he continued to travel around the world as widely as possible.

    He issued 14 encyclicals, including three on socio-economic questions, and wrote several books which invariably became best-sellers.

    His traditionalist views appeared to harden as he grew older, and his encyclicals “Veritas Splendor” in 1993 and “Evangelium Vitae” of 1995 were uncompromising in their condemnation of contraception and euthanasia.

    He suffered through various health problems in the 1990s, including an operation for a benign intestinal tumor, a fractured shoulder, a broken thigh bone and Parkinson’s disease, which left him increasingly debilitated.

    In his later years, the pope was increasingly frail and it was apparent that he was in decline when, on a visit to Slovakia in September 2003, he was unable to complete an address and on his return was forced to cancel an audience.

    That led senior members of the Church to break their traditional silence the first time and talk realistically about the possibility that the pope was approaching death, something which had hitherto been unthinkable.

    Middle East eyes continuity in a new pope

    Commentators in the Middle East, impressed by John Paul II’s pursuit of dialogue between religions, are hoping his successor will carry on the search for reconciliation between the world’s great faiths. “We hope that John Paul II’s successor will consolidate [the late pontiff’s] positive inclinations towards the Arab and Muslim world, especially as far as a dialogue between civilizations, religions and cultures goes”, wrote Egyptian journalist Walid Abdel-Nasser.

    John Paul II “greatly contributed to the culture of respecting one’s fellow man in all his specificity and endeavored to make the world a fairer, more humane and peaceful place”, he wrote in the Egyptian governmental daily Al-Ahram.

    But he said the late pontiff had failed to “express remorse to the Muslim world for the Crusades as he did to the Jews [for the Holocaust]... whom the Catholic Church long accused of deicide”, -- allegedly slaying Jesus Christ.

    Overwhelmingly Muslim Egypt declared a three-day mourning period to mark the pontiff’s death.

    Hassan Nafaa, who heads Cairo University’s Institute of Political and Economic Studies, said he did not believe a pope from the third world was likely to be elected, “despite the fact that the third world is home to more Catholics than countries in the Northern Hemisphere”.

    But he conceded that “it would be a step forward if the future pope remained open to dialogue and to his fellow human beings as John Paul II was”.

    Nafaa deemed that the late pope’s contribution in the Middle East “was essentially political”.

    “It can be summed up in his resistance to Israeli pressures and in his understanding of the consequences of the Zionist project in the Middle East on Muslims and Christians”, he said.

    In Iraq, Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani sent his condolences to the world’s Catholics in a handwritten letter addressed to Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano and delivered to the apostolic nuncio in Baghdad.

    In Israel, the right-wing Jerusalem Post expressed hope that the next pontiff would continue the work to improve relations between Christians and Jews.

    sThe pontiff, who died aged 84, visited Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank, as well as Jordan, Egypt and Syria during his 26-year-tenure.

    He was often outspoken in his criticism of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and opposed to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, souring the Vatican’s relations with Washington.

    A ‘true revolution’

    In an article in Time magazine, James Carroll argued that “John Paul II boldly presided over the maturing of political and theological revolutions in Catholicism”, particularly in regard to the Church’s attitude to war.

    “In 1965”, Carroll wrote, “the Second Vatican Council issued Dignitatis Humanae, commonly referred to as a declaration on religious liberty. But what made this document revolutionary was its total renunciation of the use of coercion in defense of the truth. It overturned a tradition of sanctioned violence that went back to Constantine and St. Augustine. Paul VI made its meaning explicitly by going before the UN General Assembly to declare, ‘No more war! War never again!’ This was a reversal of Pope Urban II’s 1095 call for the Crusades: ‘God wills it!’

    “John Paul II made the renunciation of coercive force the political center of his pontificate. His stout opposition to Soviet communism was built around non-violence, and his dramatic support of the Polish resistance movement was key to its firm commitment to nonviolence too. Because the democratic opposition behind the Iron Curtain remained peaceful, Mikhail Gorbachev, in the climactic months of 1989, was able to respond to it peacefully. John Paul II is often credited with a crucial role in the fall of communism, but his role, against the expectations of all ‘realists’, was defined by its nonviolence. War never again!

    “No sooner had the Berlin Wall come down in November 1989”, Carroll said, “than the US launched the first of its numerous post-cold war wars by invading Panama in December. John Paul II denounced that invasion, a position he would repeat every time the US sent bombers and troops abroad... The Roman Catholic Church under John Paul II made its opposition war clear as a bell, even if in Washington this aspect of the pope’s legacy was steadfastly ignored”.

    Carroll recalled the pope’s apologies at the millennium for various crimes committed in the Church’s name over the centuries, including the use of coercion in defense of the truth. But the pontiff did more than express contrition. “He put in place new structures of belief and practice, affirming peace and advancing tolerance, changing the Roman Catholic Church forever”.

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