Astana (AsiaNews) Shortly after the attack against the Twin Towers in New York, the pope visited Kazakistan, a country with a large Muslim majority. In several meetings during his four-day stay in Astana, the pope reiterated his condemnation for hate and terrorism which "profane the name of God and distort the true image of man." The pope appealed to followers of different religions, above all Muslims and Christians, so that "God would not be held hostage to human ambition", and for men to commit themselves to fostering peace, "an urgent task" in our times.
Despite anti-Islam trends permeating the West after the terrorist attacks allegedly carried out by Islamic fundamentalist, Osama bin Laden, the pope reaffirmed the respect of the Catholic Church for Muslim believers and for "authentic Islam, which prays and shows its care for the needy".
The country's Catholics number 360,000 of a population of 15 million; but for this 95% Muslim nation, the most well-known public figure of the twentieth century is John Paul II, and even Muslims felt honoured by the Catholic pontiff's visit: "He came for all of us", said one of more than 40,000 Kazaks 75% of them Muslim who flooded to Sunday Mass.
During his trip to Kazak territory, the pope also paid homage to thousands of victims of Stalinist purges which made this former soviet republic multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. The first gesture of John Paul II in Astana was to honour the monument to victims of the communist repression by placing a wreath of flowers there. It was during Stalin's deportations that Fr Tadeusz Fedorowicz was killed. This Polish priest has been the spiritual father of the young Karol Woytila. (LF)