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Pope takes place in history among influential leaders

The outpouring of admiration and respect for Pope John Paul II -culminating in his Friday funeral that drew millions to Rome andwas watched by an estimated two billion people worldwide – has beenastounding.

Catholic or not, many people the world over rightly recognizethe late pontiff as a devoted man of faith and – just asimportantly – as one of the more influential world leaders ofmodern times.

Throughout his 26-year pontificate, John Paul II was never shyabout exerting his influence to shape world events. In no respectwas this more true than in his steadfast opposition to communism.The pope’s criticism of oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe,including in his native land of Poland, undoubtedly helped speedcommunism’s fall. Though chosen to guide a church, not a nation,his role as a Cold War leader rising to the ranks of the latePresident Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister MargaretThatcher cannot be questioned.

Some media types and others have, in recent days, spoken of JohnPaul II as a sometimes divisive figure. While any leader- religious or otherwise – is sure to have his or her detractors,this description of the pope rings hollow with many Catholics andothers worldwide. It’s hard to fault the dedicated spiritualleadership of John Paul II, who maintained the doctrine andtraditions of the church as was his role.

The late pontiff was committed to the spiritual needs of hischurch but, on a larger scale, to the cause of freedom. For this,the world owes John Paul II a debt of gratitude.