ROME – President Bush (search) joined throngs of the faithful on Friday in paying final respects to Pope John Paul II (search), the pontiff whose stands on abortion and other social issues meshed with his, but who criticized both him and his father for waging war with Iraq.
Not only was Bush the first U.S. president to attend a papal funeral; he also was headed a delegation to the three-hour funeral Mass that included the first President Bush and President Clinton (search).
Bush was close to the front of the section reserved for world leaders, who are being seated in alphabetical order — in French. The United States in French is Etats-Unis. A parallel section will seat Catholic leaders.
The U.S. presidential delegation also included first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search). There was also a separate U.S. congressional delegation of about 40 members.
Bush rode to Vatican City (search) in a limousine displaying two flags, the customary American flag on the right fender and, as a tribute to the pope, the white and yellow Vatican banner on the left.
On Thursday, Bush offered fresh regrets to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi over last month's shooting death of an Italian intelligence officer in Iraq by U.S. troops, his spokesman, Scott McClellan, said.
The conversation occurred at a dinner Thursday night.
Bush stayed out of public view on Thursday, meeting privately with Italian leaders and U.S. Catholic leaders in town for the funeral.
The president wanted to stay out of the public limelight ahead of the funeral because "he recognizes the significance of the moment," said McClellan.
Bush, Clinton and former President George H.W. Bush paid a courtesy call on Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and had dinner with Berlusconi.
They also met with a group of U.S. Roman Catholic leaders in Rome for Friday's funeral, including 11 American cardinals who will participate in electing a new pope.
Relations between the United States and Italy were strained last month when U.S. troops in Iraq fired on a car rushing an Italian journalist to freedom, killing an Italian intelligence officer and wounding the reporter.
Berlusconi denounced the attack. Shortly thereafter, he announced plans to start drawing down his country's 3,000-strong contingent in Iraq in September, although he said the two events were not related.
At the dinner with Berlusconi, the leaders discussed the shooting, McClellan told reporters. Berlusconi wanted to talk about the incident, McClellan said.
"The president reiterated our regret over the incident. There's a joint investigation that continues," McClellan said.
Before the funeral on Friday morning, Bush planned to tape his weekly radio address for airing on Saturday. McClellan said the pope's life and legacy would be the subject.
Bush was then flying to Texas, where he was to spend the weekend on his ranch near Crawford. His father was accompanying him on Air Force One. Clinton was taking a backup Air Force plane back to the states.