Southeast European Leaders, People of Different Faiths Mourn Pope's Death

04/04/2005

Southeast European leaders and ordinary people of different faiths have joined the rest of the world in mourning the death of Pope John Paul II.

(Various sources -- 03/04/05 - 04/04/05)

photo

A boy lights a candle Sunday in front of the cathedral in Zagreb for Pope John Paul II, who died Saturday. Thousands of Croatians gathered to pay respect to the pope, who visited Croatia three times. [AFP]

Orthodox Christians, Muslims, members of other faiths and even non-religious people in Southeastern Europe (SEE) joined Catholics in the region and around the world in mourning the death of Pope John Paul II, who passed away Saturday (2 April) at his private apartment in the Vatican. Leaders and politicians in SEE countries praised him as one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, a charismatic man of vision and a fighter for peace and freedom who contributed immensely to the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe and improved interreligious dialogue.

"God's gift to our times" was how Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader described the pope, who visited Croatia three times during his 26-year pontificate. The government of the predominantly Catholic country has declared Monday, Tuesday and the pontiff's funeral as days of national mourning.

Born in Poland on 18 May 1920, Karol Jozef Wojtyla took the name John Paul II on 16 October 1978, when he became the first non-Italian to head the Roman Catholic Church in 455 years and its first leader of Slavic descent. At 58, he also became the youngest cardinal to be elected pope in 132 years.

In what many in then-communist Eastern Europe viewed as a message of hope, John Paul II began his papacy with the words, "Be not afraid!"

"There would be no end of communism, or at least much later, and the end would have been bloody," former Polish President Lech Walesa said, praising John Paul II's contribution to democracy.

Voicing his grief over the pope's death, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew I, noted his efforts to iron out the centuries-old differences between the two Churches, which split in 1054.

"He was a pioneer in many issues. For this reason, his death is a loss not only to his Church, but to all Christianity and the international community as a whole," Bartholomew said in a statement.

Joining his country's 50,000-strong Catholic community in their grief, Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg of Bulgaria described the pope as a consistent defender of the poor and the sick and praised him for his crucial role in establishing democracy in Southeastern Europe and for promoting Christian values.

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In Albania, where 70 per cent of the population is Muslim and only 10 per cent Catholic, Tuesday has been declared a day of national mourning. President Alfred Moisiu sent a message of condolence to the Vatican on Sunday, praising John Paul for helping Albanians "regain their faith in God and religious institutions" after decades of communist rule.

The pontiff's body was taken to St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday to lie in state there for viewing first by the cardinals and dignitaries and then by the general public, beginning Monday afternoon.

Quoting Vatican sources, CNN reported Monday that the funeral has been scheduled for 10:00 a.m. local time on Friday. Meeting at the Vatican for the first time since the pope's death, the world's Roman Catholic cardinals also decided that the pope will be buried in St. Peter's Basilica. Hundreds of heads of state and government and religious leaders are expected to gather in St Peter's Square for the funeral.

Fifteen to 20 days following the pope's death, 117 cardinals from around the world will gather at the Sistine Chapel to elect his successor in a centuries-old ritual. Four ballots will be held daily -- two in the morning and two in the afternoon -- until a new pope is elected. The ballot papers are burned after every second vote. Chemicals are used for signaling the voting result -- black smoke signifies that no decision has been reached and white smoke that a new pope has been chosen.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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