By RENEE REDMOND and ZOE SATHERLEY
THE SPIRITUAL father of the world's one billion Catholics, Pope John Paul II, died yesterday. Across the Northern Rivers, Catholics flocked to their churches to mourn the passing of a man many say was the greatest spiritual leader of the modern era. A warrior for freedom, democracy and human dignity, yet a man of peace, the charismatic Pontiff lived to fulfil one of his greatest ambitions ? to lead the Catholic Church into the new millennium. A true mystic and a great statesman, the 84-year-old Pope suffered from Parkinson's Disease. His health declined rapidly over the past few days after suffering from heart and kidney failure following a urinary tract infection. The Bishop of Lismore, Geoffrey Jarrett, believes the Holy Spirit will direct the choice of a new Pope, as it did in 1978 when the late John Paul II was elected. "We'll receive the Pope that God wants us to have," he said yesterday. A new Pope will be elected by a group of 117 Cardinals who tra- ditionally meet to vote on the Papal successor 15-20 days after the death of a Pope.
Australia's highest-ranking Catholic, Sydney Archbishop George Pell, was last night on his way to Rome where he will help decide who will next lead the church. Bishop Jarrett said he saw Pope John Paul II in Rome last October and found him to be ill but still very alert. "When he saw me he said, 'Lismore, you have come a long way', I didn't think he would remember me from my previous visit a year before,
but he did," he said. "It was amazing to see this spirit im- prisoned in a body that he couldn't express himself in any more. "I found he was a man of great humility ? he wanted to hear from you about your people. He was like a univer- sal father which is why Cath- olics feel a real sense of loss." Bishop Jarrett referred to the Pope as one of the great- est figures of the post World
War II period in terms of in- fluence. "I think he's been one of the pivotal figures in the his- tory of the church," he said. Bishop Jarrett said specula- tion about who would take John Paul II's position centred around whether the Pope would be Italian or not. "I'm not going to hazard a guess, but if it's not an Ital- ian Pope they would be from Latin America or Africa I be- lieve," he said.