- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

PARIS — From bells tolling at the mighty Notre Dame Cathedral to prayers said on an earthquake-ravaged Indonesian island, the world mourned Pope John Paul II yesterday as a beloved and admired spiritual and moral leader, a champion of peace and builder of bridges between faiths.

In John Paul’s native Poland, 100,000 people filled a square in Warsaw where the pope celebrated a landmark 1979 Mass credited with contributing to the fall of communism.

“I have a sense of great loss and emptiness now,” said student Ann Pszczol, 23, after an open-air Mass attended by thousands in Lagiewniki outside Krakow, where the pope served when he was Archbishop Karol Wojtyla.

Pilgrims burned candles at the grotto at the healing shrine in Lourdes, France, where the pontiff prayed twice during his last foreign trip in August.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani joined parishioners who packed St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a standing-room-only Mass.

“He showed us how to live, and he showed us how to die,” said one parishioner, Joan McDermott. “He reached out to people of all faiths, not just Catholics and Christians.”

People from every continent found something in the life of the pope to praise.

“The Jewish people will remember the pope, who bravely put an end to historic injustice by officially rejecting prejudices and accusations against Jews,” Israeli President Moshe Katsav told Israel Radio.

During a 2000 visit to the Holy Land, the pope left a note at Jerusalem’s Western Wall and expressed sorrow for the suffering of Jews at the hands of Christians, particularly during the Holocaust.

A year later, his visit to the revered Omayyad Mosque in the Syrian capital, Damascus, was the first by a leader of the Roman Catholic Church to a Muslim place of worship.

Sheik Salah Keftaro, a prominent Syrian Islamic cleric, said, “Muslims and Christians alike have lost the pope, and we are in a deep sadness for his loss.”

On the Indonesian island of Nias — devastated by last week’s 8.7-magnitude earthquake — a priest led special prayers at Santa Maria Cathedral. Nias and other islands off the coast of Sumatra are among the few Christian-majority areas in Indonesia, the world’s most-populous Muslim nation.

Sierra Leone’s Roman Catholic leader, Archbishop Joseph Ganda, said John Paul “brought the papacy to Africa so that today there are Africans who can be proud to say, ‘I have seen the pope without going to Rome.’ ”

In Ethiopia, the patriarch of the African nation’s 40-million-strong Orthodox church described the pope as a bold man.

“His greatest achievement was his reconciliation with other traditions and religions,” Abune Paulos said.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio that the pope “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.”

Bells tolled in churches everywhere. In Paris, the great bell of Notre Dame sounded 84 times — once for each year of the pontiff’s life.

In China, where worship is allowed only in government-sanctioned churches, believers sang hymns and prayed in Beijing’s Southern Cathedral at Xuan Wu Men.

“God has called him to rest in his arms,” the Rev. Sun Shangen said.

The Beijing government, which cut off ties with the Vatican shortly after the officially atheist Communist Party took power in 1949, expressed its condolences and said it hoped to improve relations with the pope’s successor.

Even in Cuba, the Communist Party youth newspaper published a letter of condolence from President Fidel Castro.

“Humanity will preserve an emotional memory of the tireless work of His Holiness John Paul II in favor of peace, justice and solidarity among all people,” Mr. Castro said.

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