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President Bush Hails Late Pope as Champion of Freedom

  • Scott Stearns

Joined by the First Lady, a somber President Bush told reporters in the White House cross hall that the Roman Catholic Church has lost its shepherd, "We will always remember the humble, wise, and fearless priest who became one of history's great moral leaders. We are grateful to God for sending such a man -- a son of Poland who became the Bishop of Rome and a hero for the ages."

The president says the pope was instrumental in launching the democratic revolution that swept Eastern Europe following the collapse of communism. Mr. Bush says the 84-year-old pontiff was an inspiration to millions of Americans.He said, "All popes belong to the world, but Americans had special reason to love the man from Krakow. In his visits to our country, the pope spoke of our providential Constitution, the self-evident truths about human dignity in our Declaration, and the blessings of liberty that follow from them.The president and the pope last met in Rome last June. The pope repeated his opposition to the war in Iraq and rebuked Mr. Bush for abuses at the Abu-Ghraib prison. But their differences over foreign policy did not extend to social issues, where they were allies in opposing abortion and gay marriage. The President added , "Throughout the West, John Paul's witness reminded us of our obligation to build a culture of life, in which the strong protect the weak. And during the pope's final years, his witness was made even more powerful by his daily courage in the face of illness and great suffering.

The president was kept up to date on the pope's deteriorating condition over the last few days, and was formally notified of his death by White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. President Bush ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half staff on the day of the pope's burial. The president is widely expected to attend the pope's funeral, though White House officials would not confirm that Saturday, saying it is too soon to speculate on the president's travel schedule.

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