Arab, Muslim leaders mourn Pope John Paul II death
Muslims, as well as Christians, are remembering the Pope for his efforts to bring peace to the region and embrace people of different faiths.
News of the demise of Pope John Paul II plunged the Holy Land into grief with black flags in the traditional birthplace of Christ expected to usher in an official mourning period.
Bells tolled at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, after news of his death on Saturday night.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described John Paul as "a great religious figure who devoted his life to defending the values of peace, freedom, justice and equality for all races and religions, as well as our people's right to independence."
The Pope paid an historic visit to the Holy Land on March 2000. During the 2000 visit, John Paul called for an urgent solution to the plight of the millions made homeless after the creation of Israel in 1948.
To many Palestinian Christians, the pope was someone who identified with an supported their cause. "He was a true example of someone who defended human rights, who defended the hungry and the sick in the world, and who worked hard to protect the family," said Hanna Nasser, Bethlehem's Palestinian mayor, according to AFP.
On his part, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said the Islamic Republic had learned with "extreme sadness" of John Paul's death, saying he commanded "the three paths of religious learning, philosophical thought and poetical and artistic creativity."
An Arab League spokesman said, "We are very sad to lose him." The Arab League spokesman said Arabs won't forget John Paul's "noble stance" in support of the Palestinians and other oppressed people.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Egypt feels "deep sadness." He said Egypt will send a high-level delegation to the pope's funeral.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI sent a message of condolences to his Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, following the demise of the Holy Father John Paul II, according to MAP news agency. Following are excerpts from the King's message:
"It is with deep affliction and vivid emotion, We learnt of the passing away of the Holy Father John Paul II, may the Lord of Heavens have him in His Holy Mercy.
"On this painful circumstance, We are keen on presenting, and via you, to the Christian World and particularly to the Honourable Catholic Church, the most sincere expression of our condolences and our compassion following the demise of this outstanding personality having immense international radiance, who never ceased inspiring adepts of Christianity and the other communities".
"In these moments of grief, We remember in moving pride of the deep relations of sincere affection and mutual esteem, which bound Us to the great departed and which are part of the continuity of the sound and privileged ties between Morocco and the Holy See.
"Indeed, since the reign of Our Beloved father, His Majesty King Hassan II, may god sanctify his soul, these relations have always been distinguished by a resolve to give all substance to the values of dialog, tolerance and perfect understanding between the revealed religions".
The Polish pontiff visited several Arab countries, including Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, during his 26-year reign.
© 2005 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)