- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush yesterday used his weekly radio address to pay his final respects to the late Pope John Paul II, calling him a major force in the fall of communism who “showed us the path to a culture of life.”

The tribute came one day after Mr. Bush returned from the pope’s funeral in Rome to Prairie Chapel Ranch, the president’s 1,600-acre spread in central Texas.

“Many in the West underestimated the pope’s influence,” Mr. Bush said. “But those behind the Iron Curtain knew better, and ultimately, even the Berlin Wall could not withstand the gale force of this Polish Pope.”

He added: “He taught the communist rulers in Warsaw and Moscow that moral truth had legions of its own and a force greater than their armies and secret police.”

Mr. Bush also praised the pope’s unwavering opposition to abortion and euthanasia. The remarks came in the wake a national furor over Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died after her feeding tube was removed in a bitter family dispute.

“John Paul preached that even the least among us bears the image of our Creator, so we must work for a society where the most vulnerable among us have the greatest claim on our protection,” Mr. Bush said.

The president marveled at the pope’s own struggle against illness before death. During his final days, he received nourishment through a feeding tube.

“By his own courageous example in the face of illness and suffering, he showed us the path to a culture of life where the dignity of every human person is respected, and human life at all its stages is revered and treasured,” Mr. Bush said.

The president shared the pope’s opposition to abortion and to the removal of Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube. They differed, however, on Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Still, Mr. Bush was careful not to critique the pope’s tenure the way former President Clinton did on the way to the funeral. Traveling with Mr. Bush on Air Force One, Mr. Clinton said the pope “may have a mixed legacy.”

On the way back from the funeral, Mr. Bush was asked whether he agreed with Mr. Clinton that the pope’s legacy might be “mixed.”

“Pope John Paul II will have a clear legacy of peace, compassion and a strong legacy of setting a clear moral tone,” Mr. Bush replied.

In case anyone missed the point, the president returned to the issue later in his exchange with reporters aboard Air Force One.

“A clear and excellent legacy, if you don’t mind adding the word ‘excellent,’” he said. “Yes. In other words, a strong legacy.

“I wanted to make sure there was a proper adjective to the legacy I thought he left behind,” he added. “It was more than just ‘clear.’”

Mr. Bush also said he had been moved by the pope’s wake and funeral at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

“The ceremonies were a powerful and moving reminder of the profound impact this pope had on our world,” he said. “On behalf of America, Laura and I were honored to pay tribute to this good and holy man.”

Mr. Bush, who describes himself as a born-again Christian, said the pontiff’s appeal transcended religious differences, especially among the world’s youth.

“As the pope grew physically weaker, his spiritual bond with young people grew stronger,” he said. “They flocked to him in his final moments, gathering outside his window to pray and sing hymns and light candles.

“With them, we honor this son of Poland who became the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages.”

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