Tributes to Pope John Paul II poured in from heads of many Christian denominations mourning his 2 April death, most of them united in praising the Pope's stand for justice and human dignity, but some wishing for more efforts at promoting unity between churches.
Pope John Paul's papacy lasted for 26 years, five months and 15 days, making it the third-longest pontificate in some 2000 years of the Christian Church. The longest papacy is thought to be that of St. Peter, the right-hand disciple of Jesus, who is said to have presided for at least 34 years.
The Pope met thousands of people face-to-face during his pontificate, including many political and religious leaders, and members of other Christian denominations. Still, some of them noted in their tributes that the Bishop of Rome could have done more to unite Christianity. And some of his own faithful said his attitudes to equality for women and to the issue of human
reproduction did not fit in with the modern world.
"The pontificate of John Paul II has bridged in a courageous way a period of profound changes and transformations in the church and in the world," said the Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, which groups most of the world's main Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches. "A new era and a new millennium have begun, which will require fresh responses in the Roman Catholic Church and in the ecumenical movement."
From Istanbul, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople, seen as the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, said: "Pope John Paul II envisioned the restoration of the unity of the Christians and he worked for its realisation."
Bartholomeos noted: "History will also recount his crucial contribution to the fall of atheistic communism. There are not many such brave men of vision as the departed Pope * He was a pioneer in many issues. For this reason, his death is a loss not only to his Church, but to all of Christianity as well, and to the international community in general."
In Moscow, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II "expressed his deep condolences to the world's Roman Catholic community over the death of Pope John Paul II," the Novosti news agency reported.
In a later report, however, Novosti quoted Igor Vyzhanov, an official in the Moscow Patriarchate's department of external church relations, saying: "The Russian Orthodox Church's relationship with the Vatican remains strained over Catholic proselytism in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union as well as over the rift between the Orthodox and the Greek Catholic communities in western Ukraine." Still, the news agency said Vyzhanov, a secretary for inter-Christian relations, was "cautiously optimistic about the prospects of reconciliation."
Dr. Alison Elliot, moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: "Pope John Paul II was surely one of the most outstanding people of the 20th century." She noted, "Even in recent years as his health so clearly diminished, Pope John Paul II became a symbol of Christianity's affirmation that strength is to be found in weakness. His courage and continued programme of travel and encounter must have given encouragement to many around the world who are themselves people with disability."
However, Elliot, the first woman to head the Scottish Presbyterian denomination, said, "There remains a sadness that, in a pontificate that was in many ways marked by openness and the language of communion, there has been little movement during his pontificate to remove the barriers to sharing communion."
In Paris, the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, president of the Protestant Federation of France, said: "He was a media-friendly Pope who knew how to use the media, and was able to make the voice of the Roman Catholic Church heard amongst the nations, but probably at the cost of a certain collegiality to which we Protestants remain attached." Nevertheless, de Clermont pointed
to the Pope's "deep ecumenical commitment."
The international movement We are Church, started in Rome in 1996 by a group of Catholics to promote reform in the Church, praised John Paul's stand on social justice and his unflinching opposition to war. "However, his pontificate was full of contradictions. The direction in which he took the Church internally was very distressing for those who had hopes for real reform," the group noted in a statement.
"There was no willingness to enter a serious dialogue with Vatican II Catholics such as Catholic women seeking equality, reform theologians or the We Are Church movement," the group asserted in a reference to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which modernised the Catholic Church. "Theologies that grew from the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, like Liberation Theology, were systematically suppressed under this pontificate."
The 86-year-old US evangelist Billy Graham, who is in declining health, was, however, unflinching in his tribute: "Pope John Paul II was unquestionably the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world during the last 100 years. His extraordinary gifts, his strong Catholic faith, and his experience of human tyranny and suffering in his native Poland all shaped him, and yet he was respected by men and women from every conceivable background across the world."
Graham, who has traversed the world preaching, said: "In his own way, he saw himself as an evangelist, travelling far more than any other Pope to rally the faithful and call non-believers to commitment * His courage and perseverance in the face of advancing age and illness were an inspiration to millions -- including me."
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation and presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said: "Lutherans will always remember John Paul II as the pope who fostered an unprecedented growth in Lutheran-Roman Catholic relations." The Pope would be remembered for his work on church unity, Hanson said.
The Lutheran federation's general secretary, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, noted that it was not easy to see how substantial further progress in church unity could be achieved globally. He said, "new initiatives from the side of the Roman Catholic Church will be required in the future."