Presidents pay tribute to 'saintly' Pope
Three presidents of Malta paid tribute to Pope John Paul II yesterday, describing him as a saintly and humble man who had etched his name in the history books.
President Eddie Fenech Adami described the Pope as a man of great humility whose death would be a big loss to the world.
"I first met him at Castel Gondolfo in the summer of 1979 together with my family and I assisted in his Mass. I was impressed by his humanity. He stopped to talk to my wife and I and then each of the children and he insisted they have a photograph taken with him.
"When he visited Malta in 1990, I told him his encyclical on the Holy Spirit was one of the most impressive as it was the first time I really started to understand who the Holy Spirit is. He said that was one of the best compliments paid to him by a lay person.
"Then we talked about Berlin, the fall of the wall, how he was influencing the whole process. However, when I told him he was really influencing events, he said 'I am only a poor servant that is useless'... His humility really touched me."
Dr Fenech Adami said the Pope was very impressed with the Maltese and Catholicism on the island. Their final meeting took place last June shortly after he was appointed President.
"The Pope often said he was only doing what was expected of us and wrote recently that history is made up of what each one of us is called upon to do and his humanity."
When asked if the Pope was a saintly figure, the President said: "There is no doubt about that."
President Emeritus Guido de Marco, who met Pope John Paul II on several occasions, heaped praise on the Pontiff he described as "revolutionary".
Prof. de Marco still treasures a letter in which the Pope explained how he intended to embark on a tour in the footsteps of St Paul before he embarked on a pilgrimage of Greece, Syria and Malta in 2001.
"For me, this showed how Pope John Paul II lived the gospel in its entirety. He understood man was made in the image of God. He was a great defender of life," Prof. de Marco said.
When the Pope landed in Malta after a long voyage from Syria in May 2001, he looked fragile and exhausted. "He looked so tired I thought he'd drop dead. But soon afterwards he started talking to me about the situation in the Palestinian territories, the Maltese language and so on, and I realised how mentally alert he still was," Prof. de Marco recalled.
When thousands turned up in Palace Square, Valletta, to greet him, the Pope looked visibly moved.
"As he was leaving Malta, the Pope held my hand and would not let it go. I felt I was holding the hand of a saint who made history."
Though he deems Karol Wojtyla to have been a conservative Pope, Prof. de Marco believes he also revolutionised the Church. "He brought the Church into the 21st century. He opened the door for everybody. He wanted the Church to be understood by all, even those that were not in agreement with it," he said.
President Emeritus Censu Tabone considers himself lucky that he met the Pope twice - as head of state in 1990 and as president of the Council of Europe.
"He was a very special person and had a way of communicating with people. His words were a passage to God," Dr Tabone said.
Pope John Paul II managed to bring a change wherever he spoke and did so well into his old age, Dr Tabone said.
"He had this incredible knack of being in touch with everybody. How can one forget the way he tried to bridge the Israelis with the Palestinians?
"He lived and lectured religion in the right way and earned everyone's respect in the process," the 92-year old former President said.