Across Britain, the faithful came together to pray for their dying pontiff

The faithful flocked to Catholic churches and cathedrals across Britain yesterday to pray for their Pope. They carried flowers, gifts and candles to place in front of hastily erected shrines inside their places of worship, but many also brought personal memories of a man who has led the world's biggest Christian denomination for 27 years.

At Arundel's splendid neo-Gothic cathedral on the edge of the Sussex Downs - the former diocese of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic church in England and Wales - Father David Buckley, presiding over mass for worshippers to pray for the Pope, said: "[He] is not just a spiritual leader but a friend to many people.

"He is someone who has underlined the basic dignity of true humanity.

"In the modern world there are so many things to condition us that in a way we lose the sparkle of being human. He stood for and wrote about the splendour of humanity.''

Among those praying for Pope John Paul II in this ancient West Sussex town were local worshippers spanning three generations.

Michael Short, 78, from nearby Littlehampton, saw the Pope at Westminster and Wembley in 1982. Mr Short recalled "crowds and crowds and incredible traffic jams. He's been a very great man and a very great Pope.

"Popes used to be austere, but he really brought the papacy to the people.''

Also at Arundel was Anne Alidina, 55, a nurse who converted to Catholicism 10 years ago. "He's the only Pope I've ever known, who has ever meant anything to me," she said.

In Hampshire, worshippers streamed into Portsmouth's imposing red-brick Catholic cathedral to pay their respects. Canon David Hopgood, the Dean, asked those present to pray for the Pope's "peaceful death".

Once a young secretary travelling with the former Bishop of Portsmouth, Canon Hopgood met the Pope twice, including a meeting in the Vatican 22 years ago. "I remember his graciousness and sense of fun,'' he said. "It was awe-inspiring and quite nerve-racking to meet him, but he put you completely at ease. He had a sparkle.''

Some of the younger Catholics, were less effusive in their appraisals, however. Georgina Aboud, a 28-year-old university research assistant, said: "I'm sad that he's sick but I think the Church needs to move on. The Pope was really stuck in old-school Catholicism, with his views on contraception and homosexuality, for example.

"We have to move on into the 21st century. The church needs to understand that the world is changing.''

What the Pope meant to me

Sir Richard Eyre, Theatre and film director

"To be honest his death means nothing to me. Nothing. It's an incredibly noble death, but I deplored his views on contraception. I just think of him as a Polish actor and playwright."

Sir Bob Geldof, Singer and campaigner

"I think he was a brave man. I am an atheist but I can respect a serious and clever man, and I admired him. He called me once when I was watching Dynasty, though, which did annoy me."

Frank Skinner, Comedian and Roman Catholic

"That last Easter Sunday blessing showed his spirit - battling on when his body had all but fallen to pieces. One last job to do and nothing could stop him."

Shirley Williams, Veteran politician

"He was an example of how we ought to live. Some call him conservative, but on issues such as capital punishment, the war on Iraq and social justice, he can't be easily identified that way."

Lord Janner, Jewish community leader

"He was a lesson in patience. He was the first Pope to visit Israel. There is a Hebrew saying, 'respect goes before the law'. He had the sympathy and affection of the Jewish people."

Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State

"He made a tremendous contribution to the fall of Communism and to freedom. He was a voice for the oppressed."

President George Bush, US President

"He was a faithful servant of God and a champion of human dignity and freedom. He was an inspiration to us all."

Lech Walesa, Former leader of Solidarity in Poland

"If I was to be asked to weigh up who encouraged resistance against the Soviet Union, I would say half was due to John Paul II."

John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia

"This wonderful man was an inspiring leader of the Catholic church. He was one of the great figures in recent generations."

Mehmet Ali Agca, Pope's would-be assassin - through his lawyer

"My client is very sad. His thoughts are with his brother, the Pope, and he is praying for him."

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales

"He was in so many ways a witness and an extraordinarily important moral voice for the world."

Ann Widdecombe MP

"I converted to Catholicism because of his refusal to compromise on issues of morality. When I met him in 1996 the aura of holiness was so great I felt closer to God in his presence."

Peter Tatchell, Gay activist

"He waged a ceaseless war against the human rights of women and gay people. Millions of children were orphaned because of his anti-condom dogma."

Claire Rayner, Agony aunt

"It was sad to keep an old man alive so long while the cardinals politicked over who will be next. And his views on contraception were very damaging."

A C Grayling, Philosopher

"He seemed to give hope to many but was a reactionary force. On women in the church, gay marriage, euthanasia and abortion he was backward-looking."