VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 23, 2003 ( Authentic religion is an instrument for the promotion of peace, John Paul II says in a message sent to an interreligious congress under way in Kazakhstan.

The two-day congress on the role of religions in today's world is being attended by Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Pope visited this former Soviet republic in September 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks on the United States.

In his message, the Pope said he regarded the meeting as a continuation of the spirit of the Days of Prayer for Peace, to which he convoked religious leaders of the world.

"This new initiative of the Kazakhstan authorities will help to promote respect for human dignity, the defense of religious freedom, and the growth of mutual understanding among peoples, convinced as we are that religion, properly understood, shows itself to be a solid instrument for the promotion of peace," the papal message stated.

"For this purpose, the Catholic Church, on the basis of the revealed teaching living within her, is committed to support every sincere effort in favor of a genuine peace based on truth, justice, love and freedom," it concluded.

Heading the Holy See's delegation to the congress is Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Others in the delegation include Archbishop Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Archbishop Tomasz Peta of Astana.

The congress ends Wednesday.