This week I have been in Rome to attend the funeral mass of Pope John Paul II. The ceremonies were a powerful and moving reminder of the profound impact this Pope had on our world. And on behalf of America, Laura and I were honored to pay tribute to this good and holy man.
During nearly three decades on the Chair of St. Peter, this Pope brought the gospel's message of hope and love and freedom to the far corners of the Earth. And over this past week, millions of people across the world returned the Pope's gift with a tremendous outpouring of affection that transcended differences of nationality, language and religion.
The call to freedom that defined his papacy was forged in the experiences of Pope John Paul's own life. He came to manhood during the Nazi occupation of his beloved Poland, when he eluded the Gestapo to attend an underground seminary. Later, when he was named Poland's youngest bishop, he came face to face with the other great totalitarianism of the 20th century: Communism. And soon he taught the communist rulers in Warsaw and Moscow that moral truth had legions of its own and a force greater than their armies and secret police.
That moral conviction gave the man from Krakow a confidence that inspired millions. In 1978, when he looked out at the crowd in front of St. Peter's as their new Pope, the square rang with his words "Be Not Afraid."
Everywhere he went, the Pope preached that the call of freedom is for every member of the human family because the Author of Life wrote it into our common human nature.
Many in the West underestimated the Pope's influence. But those behind the Iron Curtain knew better, and ultimately even the Berlin Wall could not withstand the gale force of this Polish Pope.
The Pope held a special affection for America. During his many visits to our country, he spoke of our providential Constitution, the self-evident truths about human dignity enshrined in our Declaration, and the blessings of liberty that followed from them. It is these timeless truths about man, enshrined in our founding, the Pope said, that have led freedom-loving people around the world to look to America with hope and respect. And he challenged America always to live up to its lofty calling. The Pope taught us that the foundation for human freedom is a universal respect for human dignity. On all his travels, John Paul preached that even the least among us bears the image of our Creator, so we must work for a society where the most vulnerable among us have the greatest claim on our protection.
And by his own courageous example in the face of illness and suffering, he showed us the path to a culture of life where the dignity of every human person is respected, and human life at all its stages is revered and treasured.
As the Pope grew physically weaker, his spiritual bond with young people grew stronger. They flocked to him in his final moments, gathering outside his window to pray and sing hymns and light candles. With them, we honor this son of Poland who became the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages.
Thank you for listening.