04/05/2005, 00.00
INDONESIA - VATICAN
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John Paul II, a preacher of peace, says Wahid

by Mathias Hariyadi
Ex Indonesian President writes an open letter to honour the late Pontiff. All major political and religious leaders express their condolences.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Abdurrahman Wahid, also known as Gus Dur, spoke of Pope John Paul II as "a man of peace and tolerance". Mr Wahid is the most influential Muslim leader in the country. He once was Indonesia's President, headed Nahadlatu Ulama (NU), a Muslim organisation with a membership of 40 million people, and was the chairman of the advisory board of the Muslim-based the National Awakening Party,

In an open letter released today, entitled In Memoriam Sri Paus Yohannes Paulus II' (In memory ot the Holy Father John Paul II), he said that Pope John Paul II was "a man of peace who, with restless efforts, proclaimed the importance of dialogue among the faithful of different religions in a spirit of friendship and togetherness".

"What made John Paul II special is the way he led the church to be more open-minded towards other religious beliefs," the letter said.

"The world was stunned as well as surprised when [he] showed a willingness to pardon his attacker, Mehmed Ali Aqca, the man who tried to gun him down in St Peter's Square."

"We were [also] overwhelmingly surprised to see his strenuous efforts to counter Washington's campaign to lead a war in Iraq. For us, this was very important".

Finally, Wahid's letter could not avoid mentioning the Pope's involvement in the tsunami tragedy. "Despite his fragile health and the number of calamities that struck various parts of the world, the Pope was especially concerned about last December's disaster in both Aceh and Nias, and the more recent disaster in Nias. As you know the Pontiff sent a special envoy to Aceh to see tsunami victims. In writing these few words, I express my deepest condolences and pray for the pope".

Other Indonesian political and religious leaders have reacted to John Paul II's death in a similar fashion.

Current NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi said "we certainly feel sorrow for the passing of the Pope because he dedicated all his life to humanitarian and peace efforts".

Professor Dien Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammadiyah, another Muslim organisation, said: "I pray for this Pope and send my condolences to the entire Church".

"Pope John Paul II's death," Mr Syamsuddin said, "is a great loss not only for the whole Catholic community, but also for the whole world. It is so since the he did so many things to preserve peace in various war-torn places such as in the predominantly Muslim countries like Palestine".

The professor hopes that his successor will continue the work John Paul II started in building peace, inter-faith dialogue—especially with Muslim countries—and not the least to find a peaceful solution to the crises in Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan

Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab will head the Indonesian delegation to the Pope's funeral. It will include current Minister for Religious Affairs and former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Maftuh Basyuni, Professor Syafii Maarif and the chairman of the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia Cardinal Darmaatmadja as well as a delegation from the NU. Hasyim Muzadi will not be able to make the trip because of poor health.

In the meantime, the Indonesia Catholic Church has commemorated the late Pontiff in a solemn requiem mass held at the King Cathedral in Kupang, capital of East Nusa Tenggara province.

The mass, which was attended by about 50,000 people, was celebrated by Bishop Turang. During the liturgy, he told the faithful to remember John Paul II as "a great Catholic leader, who chose not to stay in Vatican City, but instead went out to visit the unfortunate of the world, fight ceaselessly for the poor and promote peace everywhere."

Other requiem masses will be celebrated in various dioceses such as Bandung, Bogor, Surabaya and Malang as well every parish of the country.

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