Pope declares respect for Islam
By PHILIP PULLELLA
Reuters News Agency
Tuesday, September 25, 2001
ASTANA -- Pope John Paul said yesterday that terrorism profanes God and disfigures man and stressed that Roman Catholicism has great respect for "authentic Islam."
"I wish to reaffirm the Catholic Church's respect for Islam, for authentic Islam, the Islam that prays, that is concerned for those in need," he told a meeting of Kazakh intellectuals.
"Recalling the errors of the past, including the most recent past, all believers ought to unite their efforts to ensure that God is never made the hostage of human ambitions," he said.
"Hatred, fanaticism and terrorism profane the name of God and disfigure the true image of man."
The Pope was speaking in Kazakhstan. Its southern border is just over 300 kilometres from Afghanistan.
The pontiff's visit to the Central Asian republic has been dominated by his concern that the world may slide into war after the attacks in the United States.
On Sunday, he issued a passionate appeal for peace. That was followed hours later by Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev's announcement that his country is ready to join a coalition of states to fight terrorism.
The country's 180,000 Catholics enjoy good relations with the country's eight-million-strong Muslim community.
Yesterday morning, the Pope spoke in Astana's Catholic cathedral, which is smaller than most neighbourhood parish churches in Italy, and raised the grim past of the Soviet era.
"My thoughts turn at this time to your communities, once scattered and sorely tried. In heart and in spirit, I relive the unspeakable trials of all those who suffered not only physical exile and imprisonment, but public ridicule and violence because they chose not to renounce their faith," he said.
Soviet-era Kazakhstan was home to 16 of the many prison camps that made up the Gulag Archipelago, immortalized by Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his 1973 book of the same name.
The 81-year-old pontiff moves on to Armenia today. He has been holding up relatively well, although at times he appears to be extremely tired.