By CNS | Published April 7, 2005
Church leaders from around the world hailed the late Pope John Paul II as a force for peace who touched the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike.
Bishops from the Third World or conflict-ridden areas spoke of how Pope John Paul used the power of the papacy to draw the world’s attention to their plight.
In the Philippines, retired Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila said the pope called the “people power” revolution that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos “part of the mission of the church.”
“During the dark house of martial law, he rallied the Philippine bishops in pursuing justice and promoting the dignity of the human person,” he said.
The pope made two trips to the Philippines, in 1981 and 1995, and canonized the first Filipino saint. The cardinal said the pope always expressed “his great love for the Filipino people.”
Jesuit Father Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzales, apostolic prefect of Battambang, Cambodia, said after the pope met with a land-mine-disabled Cambodian, the pope called for an end of the use of land mines.
“The following week His Holiness, in an audience with a high-level diplomatic body in Rome, spoke about the moral responsibility of the producers of land mines. He stressed the immorality of the act of using them and the need to prohibit this cruel business,” said Father Figaredo.
Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, patriarch of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, said the pope followed events in Lebanon closely, from the country’s civil war through the Syrian occupation.
“He opened the eyes of the world to what is happening in Lebanon, he wrote to the leaders of the world and the cardinals of the Catholic Church, bringing to their attention what is happening in Lebanon and asking everybody to give all the attention needed,” the cardinal said.
In South Africa, Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of Durban said that before apartheid came to an end with an all-race election in 1994, Pope John Paul supported South Africa’s bishops and strengthened their hand in opposing the country’s system of forced racial segregation.
The pope “spoke out strongly against apartheid and, in calling it reprehensible, he reinforced our position,” Cardinal Napier said.
Archbishop Brendan O’Brien of St. John’s, Newfoundland, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the pope “through both word and example … taught the strength of faith, the power of prayer, the need to forgive and the imperative of serving the poor and oppressed of the world.”
“His teachings will continue to guide the church in the years ahead in its mission of proclaiming the reign of God,” he said.
The archbishop said the pope’s visits to Canada in 1984, 1987 and 2002 were fondly remembered by all Canadians.
“The image of the suffering shepherd, bravely descending from the papal aircraft unassisted in Toronto to greet the young people of the world, moved not only the young and Catholics but all people of good will,” he said, referring to the pope’s arrival in 2002 for World Youth Day.
Bishop John Chang-Yik of Chuncheon, South Korea, said he gave Pope John Paul more than 40 lessons in the Korean language to help the pope prepare for his first visit to Korea in 1984, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.
“Before coming to Seoul, he rehearsed the Korean-language Mass in Rome 17 times,” Bishop Chang said. “The Polish pope said he himself suffered under German and Soviet control, so he couldn’t speak a foreign language in Korea,” which suffered under Japanese colonial rule.
In Britain, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said Pope John Paul was “one of the greatest popes” in church history.
“John Paul II was always conscious of the drama of human salvation; he reminded us, tirelessly, of our eternal destiny. He showed, in his own life, how human beings are at their greatest and most free when they are most obedient to God’s will,” he said.
Australian Cardinal George Pell of Sydney said the pope’s life countered the “radical secularist view that suffering is meaningless.”
“There is more to the story than this, and John Paul II addressed this intellectually and through the public performance of his duties at such personal cost,” the cardinal said in a statement.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, president of the Scottish bishops’ conference, said the pope’s “legacy of life and love … will long remain in our memory.”
The cardinal recalled the pope’s 1982 visit to Scotland in which the pope told people, “We are only pilgrims on this earth, making our way toward that heavenly kingdom promised to us as God’s children.”
“John Paul II prepared for that future, that glorious future of eternal life with our Father in heaven,” Cardinal O’Brien said.
In Northern Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh called the pope “a loving pastor, a gentle teacher and courageous leader.”
“We thank God for his holy life, his inspiring example and his unfailing affection for Ireland and the Irish people,” he said.
Bishop Amedee Grab of Chur, Switzerland, president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, hailed the pope as “the prophet of a new Europe” who championed the rights of the poor and disenfranchised.
He said history will confirm the pope’s role in the collapse of the Berlin Wall. He praised the pope for urging Europe to recall its Christian origins in the European Constitution, acknowledging that its failure to do so must have caused the pope great suffering.
“Without the Gospel, Europe has no future and her citizens will never discover the truth, beauty and love they desire,” he said.