• April 06, 2005
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    Pope Is Mourned Across Middle East
Pope Is Mourned Across Middle East In Shiite Muslim-dominated Iran, President Mohammad Khatami expressed deep sorrow at his death, saying the "pope was a devotee of peace, justice and righteousness."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's spokesman said the Arab world's largest country will send a high-level delegation to the pontiff's funeral. "Egypt received the news (of the pontiff's death) with deep sadness," spokesman Sulaiman Awad said.

Jordan's Roman Catholic bishop, Salim al-Sayegh, posed the question on the minds of many in the Middle East.

"John Paul II tried to defend Iraq and was against the war. Will the next pope be like him?" asked Hanna Kilani, the bishop's spokesman.

During his Holy Land tour in 2000, the pope repeatedly urged the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Jews and sought to improve Roman Catholic relations with those faiths.

In Egypt, he tried to mend old rifts between Catholics and the Coptic Orthodox church, who make up the country's largest Christian community.

He also met with Greek Orthodox monks at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where the Old Testament said God revealed himself to Moses and gave him his Ten Commandments. The meeting came despite the historic split between the Vatican and Orthodox churches nearly 1,000 years ago over ecclesiastical differences.

"I cried and shouted when I heard about his death," said Jordanian lawyer George al-Wir, 41, after a Sunday Mass in Amman's Roman Catholic church. "I used to feel he's part of my family as if he's my father and the father of all the Christians."

Jamil Abu-Bakr, a leading member of Jordan's hardline Islamic Action Front, expressed "our heartfelt condolences to the Vatican and the followers of the Catholic denomination of the Christian church."

"We appreciate the late Pope's position in supporting Arab causes, like the Palestinian issue and Iraq, and we hope the Vatican will continue in the same path," added Abu-Bakr, whose group is the largest opposition party in the kingdom.

In Lebanon, Maronite Catholic Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir said the pope dedicated his life to "glorifying God, raising the stature of the church and serving humanity, particularly the suffering."

Sfeir told a Sunday sermon at his church's mountain seat at Bkirki, northeast of Beirut, that he recalled how the pope closely followed Lebanese events, particularly its ravaging 1975-90 civil war, and the canonization of two Lebanese saints.

The Saudi English-speaking daily Arab News said the pope will be mourned by "followers of all other faiths."

"Muslims in the Middle East will feel the loss particularly deeply," an editorial said.

The pope's 2001 visit to the revered Omayyad Mosque in the Syrian capital, Damascus, was the first by a leader of the Roman Catholic church to a Muslim place of worship. During his Holy Land trip, he also left a note at Jerusalem's Western Wall and expressed sorrow for suffering of Jews at Christian hands, particularly during the Holocaust.

"The Jewish people will remember the Pope, who bravely put an end to historic injustice by officially rejecting prejudices and accusations against Jews," Israel's President Moshe Katsav told Israel Radio.

In Syria, an arch-foe of Israel, prominent Islamic cleric Sheik Salah Keftaro said the world has lost a leader who advocated "dialogue and coexistence."

"Muslims and Christians alike have lost the pope and we are in a deep sadness for his loss," said Keftaro, head of the Abu Nour Islamic Foundation.