Dispatches from around the world:
• April 4, 2005 |Cairo | 12:00 p.m. ET
Pope's dialogue with the Arab world will be missed - even by extremists
A political cartoon in Monday's pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper summed up the sentiment here to the death of Pope John Paul II: a tearful world bade farewell as the pontiff retreated to a starlit heaven.
The pope gained Arab respect through his unprecedented efforts to promote dialogue between the Catholic Church and Muslim leaders, his unfailing support for the rights of the Palestinian people, and his firm stand against the war in Iraq.
By his example of humility, respect for non-Christians, and his unfailing support of human rights, he touched the hearts of Muslims and Christians alike during his Holy Land tour to Jerusalem, Amman, Beirut, Cairo and Damascus.
He made history during the trip by being the first pope to visit a mosque and a synagogue. His death united Christians and Muslims, moderate and fundamentalist, in sadness. Leaders from throughout the region made statements praising his contributions to dialogue and efforts towards peace.
In Egypt, the most populous Arab country, with a Catholic population of just 250,000, President Mubarak declared three days of mourning and praised the pontiff for his "long journey of giving, during which he remained a symbol of love and peace and one who called for dialogue between religions."
The highest religious authority in Sunni Islam, Sheikh Tantawi, head of Egypt's Al Azhar Mosque, called his death "a great loss for the Catholic Church and the Muslim world....He was a man who defended the values of justice and peace and worked for the victory of relations between the Muslim and Christian people based on friendship and love." In Cairo, at the headquarters of the Arab League, the flag flew at half-staff.
Jordan's King Abdullah expressed deep grief and said the pope, "devoted his life to calling for solidarity between rich and poor countries, peace, freedom, love and alleviation of suffering," and made tangible contributions to legitimate Arab issues.
In a cable to the Vatican, President Bashar al Assad of Syria expressed his sorrow and recalled the pope's visit to Damascus during which the pontiff expressed his strong belief in fraternity between Christianity and Islam and his defense for the Palestinian people.
In Lebanon, home to a million Catholics, the government declared three days of mourning.
Iran's President Khatami said the Pope commanded the three paths of religious learning: philosophical thought and poetic and artistic creativity.
Perhaps most telling, al-Jazeera TV and al-Arabiya TV, the most widely watched satellite news networks in the region, provided live coverage from the Vatican, and discussed the pope's contributions to interfaith dialogue, human rights and Arab causes.
Sheikh Qardawi, a popular Sunni cleric who appears regularly on al-Jazeera, praised the pope's "unforgettable stands against the war in Iraq and the separation wall in the West Bank," and asked for Muslims to give their condolences to Christians. His remarks were posted on a militant website.
Al Manar TV, run by Hezbollah, Lebanon's Shiite fundamentalist group, interrupted programming to announce the Pope's death.
Their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah, expressed hope that the "course of dialogue charted by the Holy See will lead to all regions converging on faith in God."
A message attributed to the militant Palestinian group, Hamas, was posted on a militant website in which the group praised the pontiff and voiced hope the Vatican would continue to support the Palestinian people.
In evidence that the pope's outreach to Muslims was felt by even some of the most extremist groups, Afghanistan's Taliban acknowledged the "spiritual loss to Catholics worldwide" and said in a statement that "even though some had launched a Crusader war against Islam, the pope's voice was for bringing peace to the world."
Chinese hopes for 'better ties'
For a largely atheistic nation, China’s reaction to the passing away of Pope John Paul II was a measure of the far-reaching global influence wielded by the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
While Beijing and the Vatican have yet to establish diplomatic ties, China’s foreign ministry has issued a statement expressing “condolences over the death of Pope John Paul II.” Also, spokesperson Liu Jianchao said China was “willing to improve relations” with the Vatican.
Liu specifically praised the pope’s admonition that any ties between the Vatican and China’s Catholic faithful should not “weaken the independence and sovereignty of China,” noting that the pope had once expressed “apologies” for some historic “wrongs” committed by Catholic missionaries in the past.
Meanwhile, on behalf of over 6 million registered followers, China’s Catholic Patriotic Association and Catholic Bishops College jointly sent a message to the Vatican expressing sorrow for the pope’s “passing away at the call of God,” saying it will be a “great loss for the pastoral and evangelical works of the Universal Church.”
Catholic churches in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and other major cities held masses mourning the pope’s death. Beijing Catholic leader Priest Zhao Jianmin, who once met the Pope in Belgium, expressed “shock” over his death, remembering the Pope’s “interest and respect” for the Chinese culture and nation.
“We held special masses on Sunday and Monday to mourn the passing away of Pope John Paul II,” said Sister Teresa Yu of the Beijing South Cathedral, which was first built by Italian missionary Matteo Ricci in 1605. “He was our spiritual leader and his passing away caused us great pain and deep sorrow,” she added.
The absence of official ties with the Vatican notwithstanding, the sense of loss openly expressed by China’s official Catholic churches showed the pope’s powerful legacy even in the communist-ruled nation.
There are estimated 12 million Catholic believers who recognize the pope’s authority and worship in so-called underground churches, which are targets of periodic police round-ups in China.
The pope was “a religious conservative, but he was also socially progressive,” remarked Beijing’s China Times, in a rare public attempt to analyze the Pope’s immense appeal.
Sadness and fear in Iraq
News of the pope's death reached Iraq's 800,000 Christians in the early hours of Sunday morning causing sadness mixed with trepidation and fear for their future.
Special masses were scheduled in Baghdad's 45 churches serving Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics who are autonomous from Rome but who recognize the Pope's authority.
Many of them still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The other significant communities are Assyrians, Syrian Catholics, Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholic Christians who fled from massacres in Turkey in the early 20th Century.
On Sunday, Andreas Abuna, the Auxiliary Bishop to the Chaldean Patriarch of Iraq, said all Christians here would be praying for the pope's soul. Bishop Abuna said he himself has special reason to mourn the pope's death:
"I will never forget the Holy Father because he ordained me bishop in Rome on Jan. 6, 2003," he said. "All my life I will pray for him."
Christians have inhabited Iraq for about 2,000 years, tracing their ancestry to ancient Mesopotamia and surrounding lands.
Before the first Gulf War of 1991 they numbered more than one million, but at least 200,000 have emigrated since then, fleeing a failing economy and recent attacks on Christian targets in Mosul, Baghdad and elsewhere.
Under Saddam Hussein the Baathist regime kept a lid on anti-Christian violence. Some Christians, notably Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, help positions of power in overwhelmingly Muslim Iraq. But after Saddam's removal there were frequent attacks against Christian churches, and threats against largely middle-class Christians, particularly in Mosul and Baghdad. Dozens were kidnapped for ransom.
Pope John Paul was a vocal critic of both the first Gulf War and the U.S.-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein. He visited more than 20 Islamic countries during his reign, but canceled plans for a trip to Iraq during the 1990's after his closest aides convinced him his security could not be guaranteed.
'Humanitarian number one'
While the pope did much to improve relations the Orthodox Church during his papacy, time ran out on his mission to build bridges to Russia’s dominating faith. The Catholic and Orthodox churches split in the Great Schism of 1054.
The pope reconciled with Greek, Romanian and Georgian Orthodox, but never won an invitation from Patriarch Alexey II to visit Russia. Alexey is believed to be wary of losing Orthodox believers to the Catholic faith.
In Russia, the pope is remembered for his historic role in bringing down the Iron Curtain of communism, put in place by the Soviet Union, which for decades dominated John Paul’s homeland of Poland.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, told Italian TV in an interview Sunday that the pope was “humanitarian number one on the planet.”
President Vladimir Putin calledthe pope “an outstanding public figure, whose name signifies the whole era. … I have very warm recollections of meetings with the Pope. He was wise, responsive, and open for dialogue.”
Recalling historic visit
Cubans offered tears of sympathy and words of praise for Pope John Paul II, who succeeded in building a bridge of tolerance between Cuba’s communist government and the island’s Catholic community.
“After closely watching news of the Pope’s health the Cuban government and people share the pain of Catholics in Cuba and all over the world... We will never forget the pope’s visit here in 1998… his words for peace… his courtesy to president Fidel Castro when he visited the Vatican,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque just 30 minutes after the pope’s passing. Perez Roque confirmed that a “high-level government delegation” planned to attend the funeral without saying if that included Castro.
During the pope’s historic 1998 visit to Cuba, Lucia Alvarez stood for hours in front of her church, Havana’s El Ermita de los Catalones parish, to catch a glimpse of the “Popemobile.”
“That visit strengthened my faith,” she remembers. “He was an inspirational man who came and showed his concern for the Cuban people, the poor, the forgotten.”
The papal visit lasted just five days but, according to Alvarez, helped to erase 40 years of hostility between her church and the government. “He made me proud to be a Catholic,” she said, weeping.
The pontiff was not only responsible for the release of 500 political prisoners and reinstating Christmas as an official holiday on the island but for the transmission of four open-air masses over the government-owned television and radio. Religious broadcasting is prohibited over Cuban airwaves and, until 1992, the constitution characterized the state as “atheist.”
Below a massive portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Plaza of the Revolution and speaking to over a million that included Fidel Castro and the entire Communist Party Politburo, Pope John Paul II launched moral criticisms at both Havana and Washington. He pleaded with Castro for to allow “justice, freedom and human rights” while admonishing the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba as “unjust and ethically unacceptable.”
Marta Moya, a translator, was one of millions of Cubans who watched every papal appearance on the island and appreciated the pope’s plea for reconciliation. “Being a pope is not as easy as you think,” she said. “You have to take positions on political issues and I think he accomplished that with a lot of dignity.
With the local media reporting few details from the Vatican, Cuban Catholics on Friday tried tuning to Miami radio stations for updates on the Pontiff’s condition.
By nightfall, they learned firsthand from their cardinal, Jaime Ortega, that the pontiff was indeed on the verge of death. Cuban authorities had given the cardinal six minutes of unprecedented airtime on the national newscast.
The only other occasion Ortega had appeared on Cuban television dated back to January 1998, on the eve of the papal visit to the island.
• April 3, 2005 | Islamabad| 06:45 a.m. ET
Bringing different faiths closer
President General Pervez Musharraf in his message of condolence over the death of Pope John Paul II said the pope II had rendered incredible services for peace. “
The Pope had brought people closer “belonging to different faiths” said Musharraf, who has been promoting the idea of “enlightened moderation” among the Muslims all over the world and is known as an advocate of “east-west dialogue.”
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in his message said the pope would be remembered for a long time for his services to people.
The right-wing conservative party Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan chief Qazi Hussein Ahmed credited Pope John Paul II with playing historic role in bringing peace and tranquility amongst different religions.
“The pope kept a constant contact with various religious leaders including Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan to peace global peace” Qazi said in a statement.
He said the pope sent out a Vatican City to Pakistan last year to discuss intra-religious harmony and invited his party leaders to visit Vatican. “I feel sorry now for not being able to travel to Vatican on the invitation” Qazi said.
He said Pope John Paul II was a broadminded leader who supported the family values advocated by Islam, especially the role of women in the society and their rights. “We greatly admire him for his services to humanity and his advocacy for religious tolerance” Qazi said.
By Asif Farooqi