Kazakhstan Trip Aims to Promote Interreligious Dialogue

Former Soviet Republic Is Near to Afghanistan

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 17, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II will travel to Kazakhstan this Saturday, a country not far from Afghanistan, to demonstrate that the dialogue between cultures and religions is both a “challenge” and an “opportunity.”

The Holy Father confirmed this point of view this morning when he received Nurlan Danenov, Astana´s new ambassador to the Vatican, in the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo.

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet Republic, has close to 17 million inhabitants, 53.4% of whom are Kazakhs, 30% Russians, and the rest Ukrainians, Germans, Uzbeks, Tartars and Poles. The mosaic is the result of Joseph Stalin´s policy of deportations.

Religiously, the Muslims make up almost half the population, while the Russian Orthodox number close to 44%.

“This pluralist situation is a challenge and, at the same time, an opportunity,” the Holy Father said when he met with ambassador Danenov, 50, a former career diplomat of the Soviet Union.

“It is a challenge [because] in the past, differences between cultures have often manifested themselves as sources of misunderstanding between peoples, and also reasons for conflicts,” the Pope added.

“Therefore, it is necessary that every private group oblige itself to have attentive respect for others, endeavoring to know them better, to overcome eventual tensions,” the Pontiff added.

He contended that ethnic and cultural diversity is also an “opportunity,” because it implies learning how to live in union with one another, which does not mean being reduced to uniformity, forced recognition, or assimilation.

According to John Paul II, the key lies in “communion,” which in reality is the “convergence of a multiform variety, becoming a sign of richness and promise of development.”

The Holy Father also praised the advent of religious liberty in Kazakhstan, which has made possible the rebirth of the Catholic Church. It is also, he said, an invitation “to individuals and religious communities to work for the common good, in respect for one another within the framework of the laws of the country.”

John Paul II will visit Kazakhstan from Sept. 22-25 and then go to Armenia.

The grand mufti of Kazakhstan has appealed to Muslim faithful to prepare to receive the “great guest.”

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