Pope John Paul II, the first Slav head of the Catholic Church in history, died at just after nine-thirty on Saturday evening. At noon on Sunday, church bells tolled throughout the country to honour the Pontiff. To the head of the Czech Catholic Church, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the Pope was a great person who led an untiring fight for human rights, both before and after the end of the Cold War. The priest and former Czech dissident Tomas Halik pointed to his personal charisma and to his symbolic significance.
Although most Czechs are not practising Catholics - only some four percent of the population attend mass regularly - Pope John Paul II was very popular in the Czech Republic and hugely respected for his role in helping to bring about the fall of communism. Czech was one of the many languages that the Pope spoke, and he visited the Czech Republic three times during his papacy, firstly in 1990 - less than a year after the fall of communism. To the former Czech President and former dissident, Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II was "his wise and understanding confessor" who gave him hope and the strength to cherish life.
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