A charismatic person whose eyes radiated human warmth and goodness”. That was how King Carl XVI Gustaf says he will remember Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday.
Leading Sweden’s tributes, the king said that he and Queen Silvia would remember with gratitude the many meetings that they had with the late pontiff.
Prime Minister Göran Persson chose in his tribute to focus on the Pope’s contribution to reform in Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War, and extended the government’s sympathy to the “millions of people throughout the world who have lost their spiritual leader.”
Persson tactfully avoided referring to the more controversial aspects of John Paul’s papacy, such as his attitude to condom use, homosexuality and the position of women in society. Many politicians in Sweden, including a number of ministers, deeply disapproved of the Pope’s policies in these areas, and it is widely believed that these differences led to the decision in 2001 to close the Swedish Embassy in the Vatican (the official reason was that the Foreign Ministry needed to make savings).
This tension between Swedish and Catholic priorities was apparent in the wording of some of comments on the Pope’s death. While admitting that “a powerful and conservative leader of the Catholic Church has died,” the Left Party’s deputy chairwoman Ingrid Burman said that she hoped that the next pontiff would have “a more open mind on abortion and HIV prevention.”
Christian Democrat leader Göran Hägglund said that the Pope had done more than anyone else to help bring about a safer world, adding that a great pope had died.
Maud Olofsson, leader of the Center Party said that both critics and followers of John Paul would remember him as one of the most “colourful and significant popes of all time”.
Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt said that his party sent its thoughts to all those feeling grief and loss.
For the Church of Sweden, Archbishop K.G. Hammar commented that as the first eastern European and the first non-Italian on the papal throne since the 16th century, Karol Wojtyla would make a big impression in the history books. He offered his sympathy to Sweden’s Catholics.
The passing of the Pope was mourned by Stockholm’s Catholics as they gathered at their cathedral on Södermalm, which was visited by John Paul in 1989. Hundreds of the faithful gathered for a mass on Sunday morning.
“We feel grief and sadness,” said priest Simon Petrus, “yet at the same time it is fitting that he died at Easter, which is a time of resurrection.”
These thoughts were echoed by the Catholic Bishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius, who said that the Pope, “strengthened the faithful in their belief, and succeeded in getting the message out at the global level.”