President George W. Bush used unusually personal and evocative language on Friday to describe his own religious journey, and said his presence at the funeral of Pope John Paul II had strengthened his faith.

“You can analyse and you can look at the coffin being held, with the sun shining on it, any way you want,” Mr Bush said aboard Air Force One, on his way to his Texas ranch. “I happen to feel it was a special moment that was part of a special ceremony for a special person. And it helped strengthen my faith.”

Mr Bush, a born-again Christian, has been criticised at times for the role his faith plays in his politics, both at home and abroad.

On Friday, after attending what he said was his first Latin mass, Mr Bush said his faith was “strong”. But, speaking at length and with great candour about his belief, he said “a walk in faith constantly confronts doubt, as faith becomes more mature”.

“There is no doubt in my mind there is a living God,” Mr Bush said. “And no doubt in my mind that the Lord, Christ, was sent by the Almighty.”

But, he said, each individual struggles with doubts in his or her life. “It's called a ‘walk', it's not called a ‘moment' or a ‘respite', it's a ‘walk'.

“It's a constant maturing of an understanding, and today's ceremony, I bet you, for millions of people, was a reaffirmation for many and a way to make sure doubts don't seep into your soul.”

Mr Bush called the funeral, which he attended with two former presidents his father, George Bush,and Bill Clinton “one of the highlights of my presidency”.

“I knew the ceremony today would be majestic, but I didn't realise how moved I would be by the service itself, [and] by the beautiful music.”

Mr Clinton said earlier in the week the Pope would leave a “mixed” legacy. But Mr Bush disagreed, saying John Paul II “will have a clear legacy of peace, compassion, and a strong legacy of setting a clear moral tone”.

Later in the conversation, he asked reporters toadd “excellent” to that list.

Mr Bush and Pope John Paul II shared a commitment to spreading democracy and a “culture of life”, including strict opposition to abortion. But they disagreed about exactly how to define and carry out those goals, most notably when the Pope objected to the US war with Iraq.

Asked about efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East, Mr Bush again chose to strike a reflective tone.

“We will continue to encourage democracy,” he said. “But I have also said many times that it is important for those of us who live in a democratic society to remember two things: one, our own road to democracy was a little bumpy. We have a constitution and a Declaration of Independence, but, nevertheless, had slavery for a long period of time, for example.

“And secondly, that we shouldn't expect others to adopt that which we think we shouldn't try to impose our democracy on other nations.

“What we should say is, we'll work with you to develop a democracy which adapts to your own cultures and your own religions and your own habits.”

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