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Gorbachev: Pope was 'example to all of us'

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Mikhail Gorbachev discusses his memories of the pope.

Clergy and dignitaries view pope's body, pay their respects.

The widely traveled pope felt it important to be with the people.
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Sunday that Pope John Paul II's "devotion to his followers is a remarkable example to all of us."

Gorbachev, who once said the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II, said the pope condemned communism the first time the two met in 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. (World reaction)

The pontiff, who began his papacy in 1978 when the Soviets dominated his Polish homeland and Eastern Europe, was a harsh critic of communism and offered support to those fighting for change from within.

"We had a really interesting, albeit perhaps too emotional conversation," Gorbachev said. "He told me he ... was very, very critical of communism.

The pope indirectly brought up the Berlin Wall during their meeting, Gorbachev said.

"He wanted my opinion on the prospect of a united Europe," he said. "The Berlin Wall was of course part of that, but really he was talking about ending the Cold War."

Gorbachev's economic reforms, known as perestroika, helped liberalize Soviet society in the 1980s.

The former Soviet leader, who was forced to resign as his nation broke up in 1991, said the pope also expressed criticism for capitalism during their 1989 meeting.

"He said, 'I don't serve any political parties, I serve God,' " Gorbachev recalled. " 'So I'm after the same things that you are trying to achieve with your perestroika.' "

Gorbachev said he told the pope he "had a lot of criticism for him, too."

A day after their meeting, Gorbachev said, he traveled to Malta to meet with President George H.W. Bush. They later announced that the United States and Soviet Union were no longer enemies. "So, see, it's all interconnected," Gorbachev said.

"I will never forget [the pope's] words about Europe. 'Europe,' he said, 'must breathe with both its lungs.' "

Gorbachev said the pope told him, "We are praying for you."

"I mourn his loss," Gorbachev said. "We knew it was coming to this. What can I say -- it must have been the will of God. He acted really courageously."

The 84-year-old pontiff died Saturday in his private apartment at the Vatican. (Full story)

The Vatican said he died from septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse.

CNN's Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.

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