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Archbishop - Pope's last days a 'lived sermon'

Saturday 2nd April 2005

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has paid a warm tribute to the life and ministry of Pope John Paul II, describing his last days as a 'lived sermon' for Eastertide about facing death with honesty and courage.

In a statement delivered in the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, visited by Pope John Paul in 1982, Dr Williams said that the Pope's life had been a demonstration of faith lived out. He praised the way in which the Pope had approached his own death with courage and acceptance.

"I think in these past few days, we've seen an extraordinary 'lived sermon' for Eastertide, about facing death with honesty and courage; facing death in the hope of a relationship which is not broken by death but continues beyond it. Pope John Paul showed his character in the way in which he met his death; clearly frustrated, clearly suffering and yet at every point accepting; facing his frailties and remaining courageous and hopeful. I feel there's a certain appropriateness about the fact that he died within the Easter season – a time of the Church's year which meant so much to him. It has been a season in which he was able to give a message to the whole of the Christian world, and in fact to the whole human world, that won't be readily forgotten."

He added that the Pope's early experiences under Nazism and Communism greatly strengthened the Papacy when he came into office:

"Because he was a man who had lived through the toughest and most testing times of the modern age, Pope John Paul II brought with him a very particular authority to his office. He'd shown that both as an opponent both of Nazism and Soviet Communism he was fully aware of the fact that the Church has to be something different; that it has to offer different values and different hopes to the society around it."

Dr Williams paid tribute to the Pope's willingness to acknowledge the failures of the church:

"He faced the reality of the Christian church's complicity with anti-Semitism. This showed itself in the way in which he admitted the Church's failures in the 1930s, visited the Roman Synagogue and in Jerusalem made his peace at the Western Wall. In doing this he showed something fundamental, something distinctive about being a Christian which is of huge authority."

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