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thousands costa copyMILAN: Thousands of faithful flocked to Milan Cathedral on Saturday to pay their final respects to Italian cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a hero among reform-minded Catholics, as his body was laid in state.

Solemn crowds looked on as pall-bearers carried to the cathedral the coffin  of Martini, a former archbishop of Milan who commanded widespread respect and  advocated reform on issues such as contraception and women in the Church.

The cardinal, who had once been tipped as a possible future pope, had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for years and died on Friday aged 85.

"He was a man of dialogue, a pastor who tried to knock down walls," a pilgrim who had come to say goodbye to Martini told Italy's ANSA news agency.

The cardinal was laid out on crimson velvet-covered platform and relatives and close friends gathered to pay their respects to the man who had dreamed of a Third Vatican Council, which would revise outdated dogma and attract new faithful.

His funeral will be held in Milan Cathedral on Monday. His death was widely mourned in the northern Italy city, where he had been archbishop for 22 years.

The city's Inter Milan football club posted a message on its website saying that Martini "leaves us hope of a world in which it is possible for different cultures, ideologies, beliefs and passions to coexist".

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012

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