During Mass in Kazakstan, Pope prays Christians, Muslims work together for peace

Saturday, September 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ASTANA, Kazakstan (AP) _ Pope John Paul II ended his first Mass in Kazakstan with a special prayer Sunday for Christians and Muslims to work together for peace and not let the terrorist attacks on the United States drive a further wedge between them.

``I wish to make an earnest call to everyone, Christians and the followers of other religions, that we work together to build a world without violence, a world that loves life and grows in justice and solidarity,'' the pope said.

``We must not let what has happened lead to a deepening of divisions. Religion must never be used as a reason for conflict.''

The pope arrived in Astana late Saturday, beginning the latest in a series of foreign visits during which he has spoken out against religious strife. The trip took him to a region where many fear Islamic extremism from nearby Afghanistan but are also wary about the prospect of U.S. strikes against that country for harboring terror suspect Osama bin Laden.

The pope used his first Mass in Kazakstan, a largely secular country divided almost equally between Christians and Muslims, to call for religious reconciliation. Speaking Russian to a crowd of 50,000 in the city's central square, he pleaded with people to search ``for truth'' and follow the ``logic of love'' propagated by Jesus Christ.

In an English-language prayer at the end of the service, John Paul urged both Christians and Muslims to pray for a world where there is ``no room for hatred, discrimination or violence.''

``From this place, I invite both Christians and Muslims to raise an intense prayer to the One, Almighty God whose children we all are, that the supreme good of peace may reign in the world,'' the pope said.

``With all my heart, I beg God to keep the world in peace.''

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls later said John Paul ``supports measures to bring those responsible (for the Sept. 11 attacks) to justice.'' He did not say what specific measures the pope would back.

Bundled in scarves and sweaters against the autumn chill, pilgrims began arriving at the square before dawn. A military helicopter circled slowly above, while police and security guards scrutinized entry tickets and burrowed through people's bags, inspecting the sausages, bread and apples they brought for the hours-long wait.

A half-dozen children from a Christian orphanage held hands and danced in a circle, singing while their teachers stamped their feet and blew on their hands to keep warm.

``What's happened has shocked the world so much that people need his words of hope and love and faith. That's why we came,'' said Zinova Bigaliyeva, 42, a cellist who traveled 20 hours by bus and train from the neighboring Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan.

Many in the crowd carried banners from their home parishes, some founded by Polish Catholics the Communists deported to the remote, harsh Kazak steppes in the 1930s.

``My parents dreamed of this day, but they didn't live long enough to see it,'' said Filia Bankovskaya, who was exiled to Kazakstan with her family in 1936 at the age of three. With a cotton scarf tied tightly around her face, she leaned on a metal barrier and strained to see the turquoise blue, yurt-shaped altar.

Addressing deportees and their descendants in the crowd, the pope said he was ``happy to be here today among you and tell you that you are close to the pope's heart.''

John Paul later met with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who thanked him for traveling to Kazakstan so soon after the terrorist attacks, which raised fears about the pope's security.

``In recent days I was told this trip would be impossible because of the tragic events in America,'' the pope said. ``But we see it is possible.''

He congratulated Nazarbayev on 10 years of Kazakstan's post-Soviet independence and expressed hope that the Catholics who make up some 3 percent of the population could make their contribution to the nation. The majority religions are Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity.

Nazarbayev pledged to respect minority rights, saying, ``Kazaks themselves were a minority in their own land.''

Soviet-era starvation among Kazaks, deportations of Slavs from the western Soviet Union and population resettlement campaigns to cultivate Kazakstan drive the ethnic Kazak population down to less than one-third of the republic's total in 1959. Now Kazaks comprise about 46 percent of the population of 15 million, and ethnic Russians 35 percent.