Tidbits from around the globe about the death of Pope John Paul II:
LOOKING TO AFRICA: Those wondering about the global future of the Roman Catholic Church may want to turn the television cameras away from St. Peter's Square in Rome and start focusing on the other St. Peter's -- the one in Africa. That near-replica of St. Peter's Basilica -- erected on a coconut plantation by the former president of the Ivory Coast -- seemed an odd extravagance when it was under construction in the 1980s. Now, however, the changing demographics of world Catholicism make it clear that a big part of the church's future lies in Africa and the rest of the global south. Over the past 25 years, the number of baptized Catholics in the world has increased by more than 40 percent to some 1.1 billion people. The fastest growth has been in Africa (137 percent), South America (86 percent) and Asia (69 percent). In North America, church membership rose only 25 percent, and in Europe, the cradle of Roman Catholicism, it increased by a mere 6 percent.
IN JERUSALEM: Many of the faithful believe this ancient city is halfway to heaven, and the mourners came Sunday night despite cold, wet weather. Bundled in winter coats, some 1,000 people threaded their way through the damp stone alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City, paying homage to Pope John Paul II by retracing the fabled path Jesus took to his Crucifixion. Clutching candles, singing hymns, praying and sometimes walking in silence, the crowd of pilgrims and local Christians made its way down the darkened streets of the "Way of Sorrows" or Via Dolorosa in the Old City shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews. It was a fitting tribute, participants said, to a pope who worked tirelessly to unite people of all faiths and beliefs and pushed Israelis and Palestinians to summon the courage to find a peaceful solution to their differences.
PONTIFF'S LAST WORDS: In his last minutes, Pope John Paul II stared from his bed at the window of his airy, sparsely furnished Vatican bedroom, looking toward the crowd gathered below in St. Peter's Square and whispered "Amen," according to accounts of the pontiff's last moments. While the Vatican has not confirmed either story or given its own version of John Paul's final words, two accounts claim the pope's last utterance was "Amen," the traditional close of a prayer. Amen is Hebrew for "may it be so." It was not clear, however, if the story originated from more than one source. The Rev. David O'Connell, president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., told CNN on Sunday that a cardinal, a friend whom he did not identify by name, recounted that just before the pope died at 9:37 p.m. Saturday he grasped the hand of his long-serving private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz. "And looking out the window, the curtains were not drawn, he was looking out the window. And he said, 'Amen.' And then he passed on -- beautiful, touching communication, a sense that it was finished, it was over," the Rev. Mr. O'Connell said.
REAGAN'S MISSILE PLAN: Pope John Paul II gave his blessing to the late President Ronald Reagan's plans to put nuclear missiles across Western Europe, a former U.S. representative at the Vatican said Sunday. Though European leaders were "weak-kneed" about confronting the Soviet nuclear empire, Reagan won the Pope's support for matching the communists nuke for nuke along the Iron Curtain, said Jim Nicholson, who served until recently as President Bush's ambassador to the Holy See. The purpose of the pontiff's secret approval was to confront the Soviet Union's placement of its growing arsenal in Eastern Bloc states near free European nations, said Nicholson, now the Veterans Affairs secretary. Nicholson said Reagan "regularly" sent military emissaries to show the pontiff satellite imagery of Soviet missiles spreading across occupied Europe. "The pope supported us in putting cruise missiles into Europe at that time, which few people know," Nicholson told "Fox News Sunday."
CONVERGING ON THE VATICAN: As many as 2 million pilgrims are expected to converge on tiny Vatican City in the days leading up to Pope John Paul II's funeral this week. Tens of thousands of faithful are already pouring into Rome's airports and main train station, with authorities making plans to add more bus and train runs to accommodate the massive influx of travelers. "It will be an extraordinary challenge," Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni told reporters. Giant screens were set to be erected at points throughout Rome to broadcast the funeral Mass and other celebrations. The ancient Roman Circus Maximus, where chariots raced before roaring crowds millenniums ago, was to be a gathering point for the masses. City officials were mulling whether to designate open-air sports venues, including Rome's 80,000 seat Olympic Stadium, as camping grounds. Thousands of extra police and squads of civil protection volunteers -- usually assigned to help out during natural disasters -- were called to duty to help with crowd control.
LOSS FOR PRIESTS, NUNS: As millions of Roman Catholics around the world Sunday mourned the death of Pope John Paul II, perhaps none felt the loss as deeply as those whose daily lives revolve around the church. "They look to him almost as their boss," said Carol Brinati, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, Fla., referring to priests, nuns and others serving in religious orders.
POPE AND PRESIDENTS: Some had met him. Others say they had journeyed to see him when he visited North America and felt changed by a mere glimpse of him passing in the bulletproof car that shielded him on tour. Five American presidents in a row eagerly sought audiences with Pope John Paul II, even when the pontiff expressed strong opposition to some of their policies, such as President Clinton's support for abortion rights and President Bush's invasion of Iraq. All five who occupied the White House during John Paul II's 26-year papacy -- Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush -- beat a path to the Vatican. The current president visited the pope in Rome three times in his first term, most recently in June. "Every American president, whether Republican or Democrat, could find elements of John Paul II's agenda to agree with," said James Guth, a specialist in religion and politics at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. "Conservative Republicans identified with his role in the downfall of the Soviet communism, his concern for moral issues like abortion and euthanasia that have become part of the Republican party platform," Guth said. "At the same time, Democrats recognized the pope's travels throughout the Third World, his identification with the poor of the world."
Source: Combined dispatches