- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

President Bush likely will attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome late this week — the first time an American president will have gone to a pontiff’s burial service.

Mr. Bush attended services yesterday at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where a brief mention of “his Holiness Pope John Paul II” was made during the prayers for the dead.

The president made no public statements, and the White House did not release details of the president’s travel plans, having said Saturday that it wanted official word from the Vatican.

Admirers said on yesterday’s talk shows that despite having no army and little formal political power, the pope had a profound influence on the geopolitical stage simply through religious teaching.

“He was a politician in effect but not in intent,” said Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser. “The political effects of what he did were a byproduct of what he was. He was not a person concerned with politics. It was the serenity and the conviction and the depth of his faith that had a political effect in an age which has become somewhat materialistic, somewhat hedonistic.”

The pope sided with U.S. conservatives against abortion, stem-cell research and homosexual rights, but sided with liberals against the death penalty and the war in Iraq.

Former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that what looks from an American perspective like a political anomaly is the result of the pope’s following Christ’s teachings, rather than secular ideologies.

“He speaks for the teaching of the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ, rather than try to accommodate a political party or try to be politically popular or try to be liberal or try to be conservative,” Mr. Flynn said.

Still, his political impact was enormous. Within two years of John Paul’s taking the Vatican reins in 1978, Margaret Thatcher became British prime minister and Ronald Reagan was elected U.S. president.

The three, who shared intelligence gathered from the church in Eastern Europe, were a formidable force against the communist Soviet Union, which collapsed in the late 1980s.

“His moral leadership, partnering with President Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, helped collapse the Soviet Union,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, called the pope “the most powerful spiritual and moral leader of our time.”

“Pope John Paul was unafraid to challenge oppressive regimes, including communism in his native Poland and throughout the Soviet empire,” Mr. Sessions said.

The pope opposed the war in Iraq but admired Mr. Bush for his values, said Jim Nicholson, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican who met with the pontiff just weeks before his death to discuss the future of U.S. power.

“I was able to tell him that we want to fulfill our Number 1 goal of foreign policy, which is to enhance human dignity worldwide,” Mr. Nicholson said.

The pope’s response: “God bless America.”

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