Former Vatican diplomat calls Pope ‘a man of peace’

As millions prepare for Pope John Paul II’s Friday funeral in the Vatican, former U.S.-Vatican ambassador Jim Nicholson shared his thoughts and memories of a pope who was all at once, a champion for peace and a man with a disarming sense of humor.

"He was such an extraordinary, epic person and had this aura about him; he was a humble man who looked you in the eyes when he shook your hand," Nicholson said on Sunday.

Nicholson, who is a former Colorado developer and currently secretary for Veterans affairs in that state served as the U.S.’s ambassador to the Vatican for three and a half years under the current Bush administration.

He said that Pope John Paul and the president “really hit it off” and that, “The president's views on the sanctity of life, the culture of life, were reinforced by the pope."

President Bush visited the pope in the Vatican more times than any other U.S. president.

Nicholson noted that his most vivid memory of the pope was praying with him after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

He said that John Paul called them "not just an attack on the United States but upon humanity. Humanity would have to take steps against those people who would kill in the name of God.”

“He was a man of peace, but not a pacifist,” the diplomat added.

Nicholson also fondly noted John Paul’s sense of humor, recalling the pope’s reaction to media speculation about his lack of mobility. He said that the pope shot back, "Tell them I don't run the church with my feet."

He also reminisced about a meeting with the cardinal of Detroit, who asked the pope, "'How are you feeling this morning, Holy Father?' And the Holy Father replied, 'I don't know yet, I haven't had the chance to read the American press.' "

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