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Bush: Pope Leaves Legacy of Compassion


President Bush says the funeral of Pope John Paul II helped reaffirm his own personal faith. Mr. Bush says the pope left a clear legacy of compassion.

He said he knew the funeral ceremony would be majestic but he did not realize how moved he would be by the service and the music.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on his return to the United States, President Bush says the service helped strengthen his faith, faith that he says is "a walk, not a moment."

Calling it one of the highlights of his presidency, Mr. Bush said what struck him most intensely was the final scene of a plain-looking casket with the sun pouring down on its seal.

President Bush is the first sitting American president to attend a papal funeral. He headed a delegation that included his father -- former president George Herbert Walker Bush, former president Bill Clinton, First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

President Bush met the pope on three occasions. Last June in Rome, Pope John Paul repeated his opposition to the war in Iraq and rebuked Mr. Bush for U.S. abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison. But the men were allies on many social issues including opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

President Bush told reporters in the Air Force One conference room that the pope left a clear legacy of peace and compassion. It was a strong legacy of setting a clear moral tone, Mr. Bush said, adding that he wanted to make sure there was a proper adjective for the pope's legacy.

That differs somewhat from President Clinton's assessment. On the flight to the funeral, Mr. Clinton told reporters the pope left a mixed legacy.

There will be debates about him, Mr. Clinton said, but on balance, he was a man of God and a consistent person who did what he thought was right.

Some American Catholics oppose Vatican bans on artificial birth control, women in the priesthood, and homosexuality.

President Clinton returned to the United States aboard a back-up Air Force plane. President Bush and his father took Air Force One to Texas where the president meets Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.