Timely blessing by Pope

LISMORE police officer Gary Hill has died just days after being blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Senior Constable Hill, 53, died early yesterday at Lismore Base Hospital.

Last Wednesday he was taken by stretcher to meet the Pope at his retreat in north-western Sydney.

During the visit, Snr Const Hill was blessed by the Pope, who also blessed a set of rosary beads for him.

"It was just a really wonderful time where His Holiness blessed Gary, one of our faithful servants of the community here in NSW ... he has made Gary's day," NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said after the meeting.

In a touching moment, the pontiff donned Snr Const Hill's police hat and reportedly kept it after mistaking it for a gift.

The devout Catholic had repeated health battles in the past few years. In 2004, he was diagnosed with skin cancer, in 2005 he suffered a brain tumour and in 2006 a heart tumour. He overcame the setbacks to return to his police work. However, Snr Const Hill went back into hospital last week after suffering brain seizures.

Richmond Local Area Commander Bruce Lyons said Snr Const Hill was a dedicated officer and a humble man who expressed a %dying wish to meet the Pope.

"I'm grateful for all the people who helped make it happen, and after all the pain his family and colleagues have been through, it was such an uplifting moment," Supt Lyons said.

"Gary was a true community policeman who never let his illness get him down. He was working until only two weeks ago when his condition suddenly worsened.

"He'll be deeply missed by all his colleagues within Richmond LAC, and on their behalf I would like to send our thoughts and condolences to his wife Julie and other family members," he said.

A funeral with full police honours is expected to be held in Lismore later this week.

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