|Lebanon's bells toll for Pope John Paul II (Daily Star)
|Pope remembered and admired for his 1997 visit to Lebanon
Church bells tolled across Lebanon on Sunday in mourning for Pope John Paul II.
The pontiff, who died late Saturday night, enjoyed wide appeal across Lebanon's religious spectrum after he visited Beirut in 1997 and famously called for peaceful coexistence between the country's myriad of religious sects following the bloody 15-year civil war.
Lebanon's government announced three days of mourning from Sunday.
President Emile Lahoud, the only Christian head of state in the Arab world, said: "Lebanon is experiencing a moment of great sadness and shares in the deep pain of the church and the world over the Pope's death."
He added: "With all its different religions, Lebanon always had a special place in the heart and thoughts of the pontiff, who prayed for it and defended its causes before international organizations. He was a great friend of Lebanon."
Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said: "The Pope dedicated his life to glorifying God, raising the stature of the church and serving humanity, particularly the suffering."
Sfeir will travel to Rome for the funeral later this week, but under Vatican rules will not take part in a vote for the Pope's successor, as he did during the last papal election in 1978, because he is over 80 years of age.
The different sects in Lebanon, visited by the pope in May 1997, joined religious communities across the world in uniting in prayer for the deceased pontiff.
Senior Shiite cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the highest Shiite Muslim religious figure in Lebanon, said:
"We hope the course of dialogue charted by the Holy See will lead to all religions converging on faith in God."
The vice-president of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan described the death of John Paul II as "a great loss for the entire world."
Qabalan said the Pope had an incredible gift for dealing with humanitarian problems and "always knew how best to resolve them."
He added: "We hope that John Paul II's successor will continue the dialogue of world religions that his predecessor had begun."
Lebanese TV and radio stations stopped regular programming, replacing it with programs about the Pope.
When the Pope visited Lebanon, more than one million Christians and Muslims took part in a Mass he served in downtown Beirut, including former Premier Rafik Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, who was assassinated in February.
Nazek Hariri, the former premier's widow said: "John Paul II leaves behind a heritage that transcends the Catholic Church to humanity as a whole, a heritage that will certainly be helpful to new generations of whatever region, religion or sect."
Nazek Hariri often accompanied her husband on his visits to the Vatican to discuss events in Lebanon with the Pope.
The Daily Star