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PM to attend pope's funeral

Globe and Mail Update

Prime Minister Paul Martin will be attending Pope John Paul II's funeral in Rome on Friday, joining leaders from around the world expected to turnout to pay their respects.

A spokeswoman for Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson said that government officials decided on Saturday that Mr. Martin would attend the funeral.

Ms. Clarkson will attend the installation of the new pope.

"It was confirmed over the weekend that the Prime Minister would represent Canada for the funeral," Lucie Broseau, chief of media relations for the Governor-General, told globeandmail.com.

Mr. Martin, a Roman Catholic, and his wife, Sheila Martin, will join leaders from round the globe when the Pontiff is laid to rest Friday at 10 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT).

The Prime Minister and his wife will leave Ottawa for Rome on Thursday and arrive in time for the funeral. They will return to Ottawa on Friday.

The pope visited Canada three times, most recently in 2002 for World Youth Day in Toronto.

During tributes to the pontiff in the House of Commons later Monday afternoon, all parties paid tribute to the Catholic leader.

Mr. Martin said the pope not only embodied a religious ideal but also transcended it.

"He broke barriers, he built bridges, he reached out to all who walk on this earth. He stood up for people regardless of age, of race, or faith. He was a beacon of spiritual guidance and a champion of human freedom. During the course of his 26 years as head of the Roman Catholic Church, he was a tireless and influential apostle of peace."

Mr. Martin also paid tribute to the pope's many visits to countries throughout the world, even though his health was failing. He said his trips "were testimony to his determination to seize all opportunities to promote reconciliation on an international scale and respect for democratic values and human rights."

He mentioned specifically the pope's visits to Canada, especially the trip to the north in 1987 and its effect on aboriginal communities, and his final visit to Canada in 2002 to Toronto for World Youth Day, "during which he inspired hundreds of thousands of young people with the strength and the clarity of his moral vision."

Opposition Leader Stephen Harper said the pope was a leader who touched many throughout his reign and brought a renewed sense of faith to Catholics.

"He brought a breath of fresh air in the Catholic church and spread his message of love, truth, and hope throughout the world."

"The Official Opposition, the Conservative party of Canada, [amd] I do wish to join with Prime Minister, with all members of this house, and with all Canadians to extend our condolences to the Vatican, to Catholics, and to people the world over whose lives were touched by John Paul II's remarkable papacy."

The NDP and Bloc Québécois also offered their condolences.

In the United States, President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are also scheduled to attend the service.

Press secretary Scott McClellan said the White House will announce the rest of the delegation that will attend with Mr. Bush later on Monday, according to Associated Press. As with all the countries planning to send high-level representatives to the funeral, the United States will keep its delegation small, Mr. McClellan added.

Mr. McClellan said the Bushes would probably leave Wednesday for Friday's funeral, although plans were still being finalized.

Mr. Bush will reschedule plans for a Thursday trip to South Carolina but will still greet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his Texas ranch next Monday.

"He's a courageous person. He's a moral person. He was a godly person," Mr. Bush said.

It is "my great honour, on behalf of our country, to express our gratitude to the Almighty for such a man. And of course we look forward to the majesty of celebrating such a significant human life."

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