BERN, Switzerland – Pope John Paul II (search) paid tribute Sunday to former President Ronald Reagan (search), recalling his efforts to bring down communism that "changed the lives of millions of people," a Vatican spokesman said.
On the second-day of a 32-hour pilgrimage to Switzerland, John Paul learned of Reagan's death with "sadness" and immediately prayed for the "eternal rest of his soul," said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.
The pope and the Reagan White House worked closely in the 1980s in efforts to promote the Solidarity labor movement (search) in the pope's native Poland and to end the Soviet grip on eastern Europe. Although the Vatican has denied there was a formal alliance, it said a few years ago that the two men were committed to fighting totalitarianism.
Navarro-Valls' statement said John Paul recalled Reagan's contribution to "historical events that changed the lives of millions of people, mainly Europeans." The statement also praised Reagan's contributions to his own country.
Two days ago, when President Bush visited the Vatican, the pope knew that Reagan was very sick and sent a "warm message of best wishes" to the former president's wife, Nancy, said the spokesman.
The Vatican and the American Church will be represented at Reagan's funeral, he said.
Reagan and the pope met both at the Vatican and in the United States. It was during the Reagan administration that Washington and the Vatican established formal diplomatic relations.
The move had been delayed for years because of worries in the United States that it would violate the constitutional division between church and state.
"It was a shock for the pope. His companion-in-arms in the fight against communism in the 1980s has died," said Marco Politi, co-author with Carl Bernstein of "His Holiness," a book recounting their efforts to overcome Soviet rule.
"There was a psychological and emotional tie between the two that John Paul has not had with any other president," Politi said.