Pope John Paul II expresses respect for 'authentic Islam'

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

ASTANA, Kazakstan -- Pope John Paul II said Monday that the Catholic Church respects "authentic Islam," making the distinction between it and the fanaticism that some fear will stigmatize the religion in the wake of the U.S. attacks.

The pope's statement, made during a four-day visit to the Central Asian country of Kazakstan, echoed his efforts to calm international anger following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The pope has condemned the attacks but has called for restraint as the United States readies its military for retaliatory strikes, possibly in nearby Afghanistan. Suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is believed to be based there.

However, the pope also supports measures to "bring those responsible to justice," the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told reporters Sunday. He declined to say what specific measures the pope would back.

With the grand Mufti of heavily Islamic Kazakstan in the audience at Astana's Congress Hall on Monday evening, the pope said "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."

"Hatred, fanaticism and terrorism profane the name of God and disfigure the true image of man," the pope said.

John Paul, on a four-day stop in this Central Asian country, noted the good relations between Muslims and Christians in Kazakstan. He has sought to strengthen his own church, a tiny minority comprised mainly of descendants of Catholics who were sent into labor camps and exile here.

Quoted Kazak scholar

At a Mass earlier Monday, John Paul called on the faithful to rebuild the Catholic Church in post-Communist Central Asia and warned them against aggressive proselytizing in a land of many faiths.

To make his point, the pope used the words of a Kazak scholar, Abai Kunanbai: "Precisely because we worship God fully and have faith in him, we have no right to claim that we must force others to believe in him and worship him."

President Nursultan Nazarbayev said at a news conference that John Paul was "probably one of the first leaders of the Roman Catholic Church who preaches conciliation between civilizations."

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