ASTANA, Kazakhstan, SEPT. 23, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II made an impassioned call for peace from Central Asia, in the hope that the attacks against the United States will not “lead to a deepening of divisions,” and that religion will never be a reason for conflict.
Addressing 50,000 people in this capital city´s Square of the Motherland, three-quarters of whom were Muslims, the Pope called on Christians and Muslims to raise an “intense prayer” for peace to God, as the United States plans its response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I wish to make an earnest call to everyone, Christians and the followers of other religions, to work together to build a world without violence, a world that loves life, and grows in justice and solidarity,” the Pope said at the end of the Mass, reading from a text that was written at the last moment.
According to local sources, as the Pope spoke, U.S. military planes had already landed in Uzbekistan, the country that separates Kazakhstan from Afghanistan.
In the presence of Grand Mufti Absattat Derbassalie, the highest Muslim authority, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Bishop of Rome added: “We must not let what has happened lead to a deepening of divisions. Religion must never be used as a reason for conflict.”
“From this place, I invite both Christians and Muslims to raise an intense prayer to the One, Almighty God, whose children we all are, that the supreme good of peace may reign in the world,” the Holy Father added.
On the eve of the papal visit, the Kazakh mufti asked the country´s 8 million Muslims to welcome the Pope, the “great guest,” with open arms, and he encouraged them to participate in today´s Mass.
For the vast majority of the thousands of Muslims present in the square, it was the first time they had attended a Christian religious ceremony — something impossible to imagine only a decade ago, said Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls.
The Pope concluded: “May people everywhere, strengthened by divine wisdom, work for a civilization of love, in which there is no room for hatred, discrimination or violence.”
Today´s Mass came during John Paul II´s 95th international pastoral trip, which will also take him to Armenia.
In Astana´s Square of the Motherland stands a monument from the Soviet era, representing a woman with a cup under a large ear of wheat. The monument commemorates May 9, 1945, Victory Day, the end of World War II.
The altar looked like a blue yurt, the typical field tent of nomads of the Kazakh steppes.
Delivering the homily in Russian, the Pope recalled the sufferings of the Kazakhs, whose country became a favorite place for deportations in Soviet times.
Some of the pilgrims had traveled four days by bus to attend the Mass. Among them were Catholics of German, Ukrainian and Polish origin, descendants of deportees. Kazakhstan, about four times the size of Texas, has a population of about 15 million.
Among those in the square were many Orthodox, faithful to Moscow´s Patriarchate. Alexy, the Orthodox archbishop of Astana, who is in hospital, encouraged his faithful to welcome the Roman Pontiff, even though his initiative was not well received by Russian Patriarch Alexy II.
After the Mass, the Pope dined with the bishops of Central Asia, and then paid a courtesy call to President Nazarbayev.
John Paul II´s last public engagement today was a meeting with youth at Eurasian University.
On Monday, the Pontiff will celebrate Mass in Astana´s new cathedral, and later meet with cultural, artistic and scientific leaders of the republic. On Tuesday morning, the Holy Father will continue his pilgrimage to Armenia.