Gutknecht to attend John Paul's funeral

By Edward Felker

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht of Rochester will be the sole member of the Minnesota congressional delegation to attend Friday's funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Gutknecht, a Republican and a member of Pax Christi Catholic Church, called it a "very high honor" to be included in a delegation from Congress that will attend the funeral.

A separate American delegation headed by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush also will attend.


The congressional delegation is to include about 25 House lawmakers, mostly Catholics, led by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and 14 senators led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Gutknecht said John Paul II merits special commemoration in that he was an "amazing man, an amazing world leader," for his role in the fall of Soviet communism and in the Polish Solidarity movement.

"This is a very special pope," Gutknecht said. He noted that some cardinals are referring to him as John Paul the Great, and that the outpouring of sentiment from world leaders as well as ordinary people is turning out to be enormous -- "acknowledgment that this was one of the great men of the 20th century, without any question."

Gutknecht said he was raised in both the Catholic and Lutheran traditions. He talked Wednesday about feeling a responsibility to represent all Minnesotans, but perhaps especially the state's Catholic community of more than 1 million. He also said he feels a "special bond" with the enclave of Polish-American Catholics in Winona.

The congressional delegation was to leave for Rome on Wednesday and return immediately after the funeral. Gutknecht said he was not sure where the group would stay in Rome, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have gathered.

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