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Pope chides Bush over Iraq, woos Swiss

The Pope has pressured the US President over what he described as recent 'deplorable events' in Iraq. The meeting between the two leaders - their third - took place last Friday.

The Pope described the situation in the Middle East as one of "grave unrest". Mr Bush presented the Pope with the American Medal of Freedom, calling him a "son of Poland who became the Bishop of Rome and a hero of our time". The US President was anxious to secure papal support given the Vatican's opposition to the war with Iraq and the Pontiff's concerns over the United States' place on the world stage.

The following day, John Paul flew to Switzerland, a country where Catholicism appears to be little more than a cultural accretion for many. Indeed there have recently been calls from the Swiss Church for the Pope to resign, and there is popular support for a number of proposals, such as intercommunion with Protestants, that the Pope rejects.

But the 84-year-old pope again pulled the hat out of the bag. Meeting in the city's Ice Palace, John Paul rocked and rolled with some 13,000 young Swiss on the evening of Saturday, June 5. When the pope appeared on stage at 6:12 pm, John L Allen Jr reported, "the crowd exploded as if the Swiss team had just scored the game-winning goal in the Olympic hockey finals, and sustained a deafening roar for a full 10 minutes".

The Pope however suffered criticism from the Swiss on a number of fronts. The ordination of women, the Church's opposition to condoms in the face of the AIDs pandemic and the presence of Opus Dei were all targets. John Paul showed awareness of these concerns while calling for unity.

"A local church in which the spirituality of communion flowers will know how to constantly purify itself of the 'toxins' of egoism, which generate jealousy, diffidence, manias of self-affirmation, and harmful contrapositions," he said, refering to his recent call for a rejection of a 'rights-based' notion of the individual.

The effect on the youth of the 'Papal Popstar tour', appeared to be energising.

"I feel more Catholic today," said Michele Tassone, 14, of the Swiss town of Lanquart. "Being here with all these other Catholic kids, I feel more like I'm part of something."

Pope John Paul II left the spired clock towers of this capital on Sunday, concluding his 103rd foreign pilgrimage with a relative ease that suggested the probability of more travel ahead - bbc, national catholic reporter

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