.- President George W. Bush will lead a U.S. delegation to Vatican City for the funeral mass of Pope John Paul II. He will leave Wednesday with first lady Laura Bush and three other delegates, whose names have not yet been announced.
Bush said it would be his “great honor” to express Americans' “gratitude to the Almighty for such a man” as Pope John Paul II, reported The Associated Press. He is the first sitting president to attend a Pope's funeral.
Bush met with the Pope three times during his presidency. The first meeting in July 2001 was at the Pope's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. He was accompanied by the first lady. Bush described that meeting as unforgettable.
"I can remember him taking us out on the balcony of this fabulous palace overlooking a magnificent lake and talking about his views of the world," Bush said. "It was a moment I'll never forget during my presidency."
Bush said that while they didn't agree on everything, he always appreciated hearing the Pope's point of view.
At that first meeting, the Pope expressed his disagreement with the war in Iraq, the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops and Bush's support for the death penalty.
At their last meeting in June 2004, Bush presented the Pope with the Medal of Freedom, and the Pope responded by expressing his "grave concern" about events in Iraq.
According to the AP, Bush said the Pope will be remembered for the huge influence he had on the lives of young people and how he demonstrated "that one man can make a difference in people's lives."
"He's a courageous person. He's a moral person. He was a godly person," Bush reportedly said.