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Pope cries while recalling journalist friend

Pope Francis during a moment's silence for Alexei Bukalov. He is flanked by Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti and papal trip planner Mgr Mauricio Rueda (CNS)

Alexei Bukalov died last month

Pope Francis has paid tribute to a Russian journalist who died last month. Speaking on the papal plane to World Youth Day in Panama, the Pontiff had tears in his eyes as he praised Alexei Bukalov, “a man of great humanity”.

According to the translation from Rome Reports, Francis said: “Today is the first flight in which we are missing a colleague whom I loved very much, Alexei Bukalov from the TASS news agency.

“He was a man of great humanity that was not afraid of humankind – down to the most human of aspects and the divine, up to the highest level. He was a man capable of making a synthesis in Dostoyevsky’s style. I’m sure we’ll all miss him.”

Francis then asked for a moment’s silence and bowed his head in prayer.

Bukalov, who died last month aged 78, headed the Italy and Vatican office for TASS, the largest Russian news agency. He was the first Russian journalist to travel with the popes, accompanying St John Paul II and Benedict XVI as well as Francis. He wrote a book about the popes, as well as two books on the poet Alexander Pushkin.

Earlier this month, the American journalist John Allen also paid tribute to Bukalov, describing him as “one of the world’s nicest guys, with a megawatt smile and terrific sense of humour”.