VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 1, 2003 ( Religions of the world should unite to denounce terrorism, since public opinion "could be tempted" to think that the acts of violence have a religious origin, says John Paul II.

The Pope made that suggestion when he addressed the bishops of the Coptic Church of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy of Egypt, on their five-yearly visit to the Holy See. He met the bishops on Saturday in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

The Holy Father spoke on the need for dialogue among the great religions, which should reflect a commitment to combat the plague of terrorism.

"The dialogue with Islam is particularly important in your country," a majority Muslim land, the Pope said. "It assumes an exemplary character for the dialogue between the great religions of the world," particularly necessary "after the tragic events connected to terrorism which have marked the beginning of the third millennium."

This matter is especially important because public opinion "could be tempted to impute [the acts of terrorism] to causes of religious origin," the Pontiff warned.

He said that it is essential "that the religions of the world join forces to denounce terrorism and to work together in the service of justice, peace and fraternity among men."

"Together with you, I thank God for all the Christian communities in Egypt, heirs of the first proclamation of the Gospel realized by St. Mark, and I recall with joy and emotion my Jubilee pilgrimage to Cairo and St. Catherine's monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai," John Paul II told the bishops.

"There one understands better the special rootedness of the Christian revelation in this region of the world and its intrinsic connection with the Old Testament," he added.

In the new millennium, "the mission field is wide open" for the Church, which "wishes to be the voice of the little ones and of the poor," to "hear the call of those who aspire to peace," to "welcome refugees without a country" and "to place itself at the service of the real dignity of man," the Holy Father continued.

Exhorting Egyptian bishops of the various rites to "further the bonds of authentic Catholic unity," John Paul II said that in an Islamic society "the greatest testimony is daily life centered on the double commandment of love of God and of neighbor."