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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gorbachev Praises the Late Pontiff

Pope John Paul II was a "No. 1 humanist" whose advocacy of human rights helped Eastern Europe throw off the weight of communist oppression, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Sunday.

In an interview, Gorbachev, whose six-year presidency overlapped with John Paul's 26-year papacy, fondly recalled the late Roman Catholic leader who played a substantial role in the collapse of European communism.

"He was a person who worked for the glory of all people. He did not serve just one party, one campaign, one set of politics. His mission was from God," Gorbachev said in the offices of the foundation he established to promote peace and democracy.

Gorbachev said his first meeting with the pope, in 1989 in Italy, was "tremendously interesting." The two spoke about democracy, communism and perestroika -- Gorbachev's economic reforms program that aimed to pull the Soviet Union out of stagnation.

"The first time we spoke, he said, 'You know how strongly I criticize communism.' ... Then he said, 'You should also know ... that I just as strongly and just as firmly criticize capitalism,'" Gorbachev said. "On the whole, this man was for a society where humanity was at its center. Not the state, not the elite, but humanity," he said.