It was with deep sadness that I learned today (02 April 05) of the death of Pope John Paul II in Rome.
He was one of the true iconic figures of the late twentieth century and an inspirational spiritual leader to billions of people around the globe.
Pope John Paul was not just the Head of the Catholic Church; he was its heart and its soul. He embodied what we consider to be the core Christian values of compassion and charity.
His tenacity and courage in the face of such a debilitating illness over so many years, was an insight into his enormous dignity and strength of character.
But perhaps his greatest trait of all was his ability to forgive. I was immensely touched by the John Paul’s visit to his would-be assassin Ali Agca in prison in 1983 when he spoke with and forgave the man who had tried to murder him two years earlier in Saint Peter’s Square.
His visit here to Ireland in 1979 to this day, remains fresh in the Irish consciousness and touched the entire nation in a truly unique way. It resulted in the greatest ever mass turnout of people this country has ever seen. When I had the pleasure of meeting the Pope some years ago, it was clear to me that his short visit here had an equally profound effect on him. He also spoke to me at that time of the great importance he attached to the Irish Peace Process.
We greatly mourn the passing of Pope John Paul II. He will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of the Irish people. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.