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Germany

Berlin Bids Farewell to Pope

German religious and political leaders celebrated a mass for John Paul II in Berlin's largest Catholic church, St. John's Basilica. The service focused on the late pope's achievements on the world stage.

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Berlin mourned the pope at a special mass

Some 1,000 crowded into the cathedral, where the head of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, praised the pope as an ambassador for peace and justice. Many in the basilica carried flowers or wore images of the deceased leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Many were crying,

The solemn ceremony was attended by high-ranking figures from German politics, including Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, opposition leaders Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle, several cabinet members and former chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Papst Trauergottesdienst in Berlin

German Parliamentary President Wolfgang Thierse, Doris Schröder-Köpf, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Dieter Althaus, Prime Minister of German State of Thuringia, Health Minister Ulla Schmidt and former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, from left, attend a service in St. John's Basilica in Berlin in memory of John Paul II.

Lehmann, who is considered a fairly liberal cardinal, admitted that the message of John Paul II, a man with conservative positions of many moral questions, was controversial to many Germans.

Regarding critics' view that the pope was too authoritarian, Lehmann said the Polish-born John Paul came from a background, namely a dictatorship, which required that the church have "unity and discipline" in order to survive.

"For us children of a pluralistic society which often leans toward individualism, it was not an easy message," he said.

Focus on positive

But Lehmann focused primarily on John Paul II's role in Poland's -- and by extension, eastern Europe's -- journey from communism to democracy. He also touched on the pope's critical stance on the development of modern capitalist societies and the Holy Father's work on behalf of the weaker members of society.

"John Paul II taught us that when we start thinking only about our own well-being while letting the fate of others out of sight, the freedom of all is at stake," he said.

Papst Trauergottesdienst in Berlin

A large picture of John Paul II stood near the altar. The basilica was decorated with flowers and incense wafted among the crowd. Strains from the requiem of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, written in the 17th century, filled the cavernous space.

Anti-war pope

Wolfgang Thierse, parliamentary speaker and a Catholic himself, told reporters shortly before the ceremony that he admired the pope particularly for his rejection of war. "The pontiff’s efforts to promote peace and understanding are really unparalleled," he said. "He’ll also be remembered as a man who sought constructive dialogue with other religions, and he stood for reconciliation with the Jews and Muslims."

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