John Paul II Urges Pakistan to Promote Tolerance

President Musharraf Visits Pope

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 30, 2004 ( John Paul II appealed to General Pervez Musharraf to promote dialogue and tolerance among peoples, when the Pakistani president visited the Vatican.

During a 20-minute audience, the Pope thanked the Pakistani leader for the visit and stressed its importance given the international scene marked by terrorism.

«In these times of turmoil and violence I encourage you and your fellow citizens to continue to foster a spirit of dialogue and tolerance in your region,» the Holy Father said, reading from a prepared text in English, which he only referred to initially. He appeared exhausted.

«It is only by acknowledging the need for mutual understanding among peoples, through a frank and open exchange of ideas, that the world can obtain authentic justice and peace,» the Pope added.

John Paul II invoked upon Musharraf and «all the people of Pakistan … the abundant blessings of Almighty God.»

Musharraf was accompanied by his wife, Sehba Farid, who, like the other women in the entourage, was not wearing the Muslim head scarf.

The president gave the Pope a green prayer mat with a representation of the tree of life. The Holy Father in turn gave the Musharraf a collection of papal medals.

After the meeting, the Pakistani president met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state.

The biography furnished by the Vatican press office explained that Musharraf sees his country as a «modern and moderate Muslim state.»

The biography also stated that «during the three years that General Pervez Musharraf has been chief executive in Pakistan, the country has seen more structural reforms than ever before in its history.»

Of Pakistan’s close to 160 million inhabitants, 97% are Muslim, three-quarters of are Sunnis. The Catholic Church is organized in two archdioceses, four dioceses and an apostolic prefecture. The largest diocese is that of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, with some 35,000 Catholics.

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