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Bush: 'A hero for the ages'

John Paul II
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush, with his wife, Laura, at his side, spoke briefly at the White House after he learned of the pope's death.

Bush met three times with the pope during his life. In June 2004, Bush presented the pontiff with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. honor given to civilians, while visiting the Vatican.

The following is the text of the president's statement Saturday afternoon:

"The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd. The world has lost a champion of human freedom, and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home.

"Pope John Paul II left the throne of St. Peter in the same way he ascended to it -- as a witness to the dignity of human life. In his native Poland, that witness launched a democratic revolution that swept Eastern Europe and changed the course of history.

"Throughout the West, John Paul's witness reminds us of our obligation to build a culture of life, in which the strong protect the weak.

"And during the Pope's final years, his witness was made even more powerful by his daily courage in the face of illness and great suffering.

"All popes belong to the world, but Americans had special reason to love the man from Krakow. In his visits to our country, the pope spoke of our providential Constitution, the self-evident truths about human dignity in our Declaration (of Independence), and the blessings of liberty that follow from them.

"It is these truths, he said, which have led people all over the world to look to America with hope and respect. Pope John Paul II was himself an inspiration to millions of Americans and to so many more throughout the world.

"We will always remember the humble, wise and fearless priest who became one of history's great moral leaders. We are grateful to God for sending such a man, a son of Poland who became the bishop of Rome and a hero for the ages."

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