Keep Up Dialogue with Islam, Pope Tells North African Bishops

Urges Catholic Minorities to Aid the Needy in Their Countries

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 23, 2003 ( John Paul II encouraged Catholics living in countries with Islamic majorities to promote dialogue with their Muslim brothers and to be signs of God’s love through aid to the needy.

When he met Saturday with the bishops of the Regional Episcopal Conference of North Africa, the Pope said that interreligious dialogue must be continued «with patience and determination to overcome mutual mistrust and learn to serve together the common good of humanity.»

The bishops of the Maghreb were concluding their quinquennial visit to the Holy See. Archbishop Henri Teissier of Algiers addressed the Holy Father on behalf of the episcopal conference.

Addressing the bishops of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, the Pope noted «the quality of relations» between Christians and the Muslim populations of these countries, and he affirmed: «All this is possible thanks to reciprocal knowledge, daily meetings of life and exchanges, particularly with families.»

«Continue to encourage these meetings as a priority day after day,» John Paul II urged. «They contribute to the evolution of mentalities on both sides and help to overcome preconceived images that the media still present all too frequently.»

The Pope referred to the «tragic events suffered by the Christian community and shared by the Muslim people» of North Africa.

Without referring to specific cases, he said those events «not only have increased human solidarity, but also attention to the other and his religious values.»

In the 1990s, the Catholic community of Algeria suffered a number of killings, including those of seven Trappists at the monastery of Our Lady of the Atlas in Thibirine (May 1996) and of Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran (on Aug. 5, 1996).

«The spiritual experience of the Church, which recognizes in the cross of the Lord the greatest expression of love, has always considered the gift of the martyrs as an eloquent testimony and fruitful source for the life of Christians,» the Pope continued. «Therefore, it is to be hoped that from these tragic events will arise fruits of peace and holiness for all.»

Lastly, the Holy Father appealed to the small Catholic minority of these countries, made up primarily of immigrants, to become an «expression of the goodness of God for all men» through the «service of charity to the poorest,» regardless of «race, culture or religion.»

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