John Paul II Says Respect for Religious Traditions Helps National Unity

Senegalese President Announces Muslim-Christian Conference

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 13, 2004 ( Respect for religious traditions contributes to national unity, said John Paul II as he received President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal in audience.

The Pope made his observation today just before the Senegalese leader presented an initiative to the Holy Father for Muslim-Christian dialogue.

“I pray to the Almighty to support the efforts of all those who are committed to building a society based on justice and peace, in respect for the values and religious traditions proper to each one,” the Holy Father said in English.

This respect “contributes to national unity, as well as to the preservation of concord and to the promotion of fraternity among all the members of society,” he added.

After the audience, the Senegalese president announced an initiative to promote dialogue between Muslims and Christians which will culminate with an international conference in Dakar, the capital of the western African nation, in December 2005.

“In this period of evolution of humanity, there is a problem of perception” of relations between Muslims and Christians, Wade said during a press conference.

“In general Christians have a bad perception of Islam,” as they see it as a “religion that mistreats women,” he said.

“As for Muslims, we have to defend the image of our religion, and make the way we live our Islam understood,” the Senegalese leader added.

The president wouldn’t give any details about the participants in the international conference, except to say that some heads of state would speak.

Wade said that the Pope during their audience encouraged him to continue with “his efforts in favor of peace in Africa.”

At the end of the audience, the president gave the Holy Father a book and a picture of the slaves’ island, Goree, which the Pope visited in his apostolic trip to Senegal in 1992.

Of Senegal’s 10 million inhabitants, 5% are Catholics, 94% are Muslims, and 1% profess traditional animist religions.

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