Benedict XVI Sends Condolences at Death of Václav Havel

Remembers Him as Courageous Defender of Human Rights

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI addressed a message of condolence to the president of the Czech Republic after the death Sunday of former President Václav Havel.

The Pope noted the time of national mourning, and said he joins "all those who have gathered in St. Vitus' Cathedral for the solemn funeral rite in commending the soul of the deceased to the infinite mercy of our heavenly Father."

The funeral was held today.

The papal telegram continued: "Remembering how courageously Mr. Havel defended human rights at a time when these were systematically denied to the people of your country, and paying tribute to his visionary leadership in forging a new democratic polity after the fall of the previous regime, I give thanks to God for the freedom that the people of the Czech Republic now enjoy."

Havel, born Oct. 5, 1936, was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first to lead the Czech Republic.