WORLDWIDE MOURNING: Grafton Parish Priest Rex Hackett
WORLDWIDE MOURNING: Grafton Parish Priest Rex Hackett

Death of a Pope

By TOBY WALKER

TRIBUTES from around the Globe are flowing into the Vatican today for Pope John Paul II, a man remembered as a champion of freedom and human rights during his 26-year-tenure. His death around 5.30am Australian time yesterday came two days after suffering heart failure brought on by ongoing health problems. Sydney Catholic Archbishop George Pell was quick to praise Pope John Paul II's powerful and far-reaching influence on recent history. "History will know him as John Paul the Great," he said. "He was not only the most politically influential Pope in centuries, he was also, to the very end, one of the greatest Christian pastors in history." The Parish Priest of Grafton, Father Rex Hackett, said the Clarence Valley Catholic community was saddened by news of the Pope's death but also felt a sense of relief at knowing his struggle with ill health had ended. Fr Hackett said Pope John Paul II's conservative views on certain social issues would ultimately be overshadowed by his legacy of goodwill and peace. "He was a very strong and determined Pope who tended to be conservative on church matters but not in matters to do with freedom and the rights of people."

MILLIONS of people around the world, not just within the Catholic Church but across all faiths, were saddened to hear of John Paul II's death. During his 26 years as head of the Catholic Church, the Pope travelled extensively spreading a universal message of peace and goodwill. Junction Hill's Margaret O'Connor was one of the countless people the Pope met on his worldwide tours. She still vividly recalls wondering what she would say to him when they met at St Mary's Catholic Church in Sydney in 1995 to present the Pope with a painting of Aust- ralia's first saint, Mary Mack- illop. "There was a sense of pres- ence when he spoke to you, as if you were the only per-

son there," she said. "And I remember jolting back as he approached me. . . and remember thinking 'this is a wonderful moment, a once in a lifetime moment, what will I say to the Pope when he comes to me.'" Mrs O'Connor had given the momentous occasion some

prior thought and elected to greet the Pope with a well-known Gaelic greeting from her native Ireland. 'Ceid Mila Failte' she said to the Pope, meaning 'A Hun- dred Thousand Welcomes'. Pope John Paul II's gra- ciously smiled back with a nod of appreciation to a say- ing he was no doubt familiar with. Mrs O'Connor said her brief meeting with Pope John Paul II left her in awe of a man who showed real charis- ma and a profound sense of dignity. Ten years on Mrs O'Connor still feels tremen- dous admiration for a man who touched millions and changed the scope of the pa- pacy in his 26 years as head of the Catholic Church.



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