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Chinese Ambassador Leads Security Council in Moment of Silence for Pope


The 15-member Security Council paused for a moment to pay tribute to the Roman Catholic leader Monday, as Secretary-General Annan adjusted his travel plans so he could be in Rome for Friday's funeral services.

Echoing Mr. Annan's words, the security council president, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, described the pontiff as a tireless advocate of peace and a pioneer in interfaith dialogue.

China does not recognize the pope, and broke off relations with the Vatican in the 1950s. The Holy See, in turn, recognizes Beijing's diplomatic rival, Taiwan, and in the past has criticized China for suppression of religion.

But Ambassador Wang called the Security Council's moment of silence an acknowledgement of John Paul's status as a spiritual leader. "The pope is being regarded as a great spiritual leader, so I think the Council as an international organ should like, as many others, to show its respect for the pope. I think this is also the feeling of millions of religious believers all over the world," he said.

China requires believers to join the government-backed China Patriotic Catholic Association, which pledges loyalty to the state rather than the pope. Leaders of the Patriotic association claim membership of four million.

Vatican officials say 10 million other Chinese Catholics belong to an underground church, which recognizes the pope's leadership.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang, however, said his government does not limit religious freedom, and said Beijing had been encouraged by Pope John Paul's attempt at reconciliation. "I think that in China the constitution also sets freedom of religious belief. As far as the pope is concerned, I think during the pope's time he also expressed his wishes to improve relations between the Vatican and the Chinese side," he said.

A U.N. spokesman Monday said Secretary-General Annan would be among world leaders gathering in the Vatican for the pope's funeral. Mr. Annan had earlier been scheduled to attend a meeting of the heads of U.N. agencies on that day in Geneva.

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