U.S. Protestant leaders praised Pope John Paul II's efforts to foster greater Christian unity and fight the global culture wars, areas on which they often agreed with the late Roman Catholic pontiff despite other theological differences.
John Paul died Saturday at age 84 after his body shut down following a long struggle with Parkinsons disease, heart failure, and breathing problems.
Bishop J. Delano Ellis, president of the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops, visited the Vatican several times during John Paul's papacy and called him a man of prayer and deep devotion.
"But he's also a pope that has reached out as far as he could afford to reach," Ellis told Religion News Service. "He's reached out to other faith groups in an effort to create a sense of peace between us."
Whether up close or from a distance, Protestant leaders of a variety of stripes recalled the pope's efforts on topics of mutual agreement and credit him with a legacy that advanced ecumenism. Mainline and evangelical, black and white, these representatives of a separate branch of Christianity noted their ties to the world's most famous Catholic.
"We stood there, talked for about five minutes about the Pentecostal community in America and throughout the world, and I told him we thanked God for his openness and his willingness to at least acknowledge our coexistence with our Roman brothers and sisters," recalled Ellis, who also is senior pastor of the Pentecostal Church of Christ in Cleveland, about his first visit with the pope in 1991.
Evangelist Billy Graham said in a statement that he considers the pontiff to be the top moral leader of the century.
"Pope John Paul II was unquestionably the most influential voice for morality and peace ...1
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