The president and Mrs. Bush are preparing to leave for Rome Wednesday to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul. President Bush says he and the First Lady will lead America's delegation to pay the nation's respects to a man the president called a great world leader.
President Bush said, "He shows that one man can make an enormous difference, and I look forward to honoring the memory of Pope John Paul II."
Mr. and Mrs. Bush will be accompanied by the president's father, former president George Herbert Walker Bush as well as by former president Bill Clinton. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rounds out the five-member delegation.
President Bush will be the first sitting president to attend a papal funeral. Pope John Paul often criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq and during his last meeting with Mr. Bush last June, rebuked him for U.S. abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.
President Bush told reporters Monday that he understood the pope's objections because he was a man of peace who did not like war.
After Friday's funeral, the president flies directly to his Texas ranch for a Monday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.