"To Promote Violence and Conflict in the Name of Religion is a Terrible

VATICAN CITY, FEB 24 (ZENIT).- John Paul II began his visit to Egypt as
a pilgrim in Moses' footsteps with a heartfelt appeal that "all the
peoples of this unique area of the world will see their rights respected
and their legitimate aspirations fulfilled."

The Holy Father's words were preceded by sincere praise for the politics
of this country, led by Hosni Mubarak, whom the Pope congratulated for
his commitment to peace in this nation, as well as for his role in the
promotion of peace in the Middle East.

The first welcome of a Pope to Egypt was characterized by a denunciation
of all forms of religious fundamentalism. "To do harm, to promote
violence and conflict in the name of religion is a terrible
contradiction and a great offence against God. But past and present
history give us many examples of such a misuse of religion."

Egypt, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, received the Bishop of Rome in a
climate of festivity. He was welcomed at the airport by the highest
civilian and religious authorities of the country. Among them was
President Hosni Mubarak; the highest Muslim authority Grand Imam of the
Al-Azhar Mosque and University, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi; Coptic Orthodox
Pope of Alexandria Shenouda III; and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Stephanos
II Ghattas.

The welcoming ceremony took place in Cairo's international airport,
where the Pope's plane landed just after 2 p.m. local time. This visit
broke with tradition a bit, because the official meeting with President
Mubarak took place not in the presidential palace, but in the airport's
presidential pavilion.

This is Karol Wojtyla's second visit to Egypt. His first was in 1963,
when he traveled to Cairo with a group of participants in Vatican
Council II.

"We must all work to strengthen the growing commitment to
inter-religious dialogue, a great sign of hope for the peoples of the
world," the Holy Father said as he began his fifth trip to an Arab
country. He emphasized his words by recalling the tradition of peaceful
coexistence among different religions for which Egypt is noted. "This is
the land of a 5000-year old civilization known throughout the world for
its monuments and for its knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. This
is the land where different cultures met and mingled, making Egypt
famous for its wisdom and learning."

In this hinge between Africa and Asia, on the banks of the great river
Nile, one of the most ancient civilizations of mankind was born and
developed. Its history includes decisive stages in the story of
salvation: the call of the chosen people out of slavery, the revelation
of God's name, the gift of the Covenant and of the Law, and the Holy
Family's flight. Moreover, 1000 years ago, the "advent of Islam brought
splendors of art and learning that have had determining influence on the
Arab world and Africa," the Holy Father said.

In Egypt, differences "of religion were never barriers, but a form of
mutual enrichment in the service of the one national community." In
fact, the "people of Egypt have for centuries pursued the ideal of
national unity." To stress this idea, the Pope quoted the words of
Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III, who in the 80s was exiled by the
regime in power: "'Egypt is not the native land in which we live, but
the native land which lives in us.' "

Christianity has also made a decisive contribution to this millenarian
history. The Church of Alexandria, founded by the evangelist Mark, has
generated great theologians, such as Clement, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril
and Origen. The memory of St. Catherine is also very much alive. Egypt
has also been marked by saints like Anthony and Pacomius, who made it
"the birthplace of monasticism, which has played an essential part in
preserving the spiritual and cultural traditions of the Church."

Given the above, the Holy Father went on to say, "The unity and harmony
of the nation are a precious value that all citizens should cherish, and
which political and religious leaders must continually promote in
justice and respect for the rights of all."

"As-salám 'aláikum," John Paul II said in bidding farewell. "Peace be
with you." And he added: "This is my greeting to you all. This is the
prayer I offer up for Egypt and all her people. May the Most High God
bless your land with harmony, peace and prosperity."

In the afternoon, Pope John Paul II, the Successor of St. Peter, met
with Pope Shenouda III, the Successor of St. Mark, first Bishop of
Alexandria. The Pope's next visit was to the highest Sunni Muslim
authority in the world, Imam Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar.
Tomorrow morning the Holy Father will preside at a Mass for Egyptian
Catholics in Cairo's Sports Palace. In the afternoon, he will attend an
ecumenical meeting in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt. And finally on
Saturday, one of his cherished dreams will come true: he will go to
Sinai, visit St. Catherine's Monastery, where he will commemorate God's
revelation of his name to Moses and the handing of the Ten Commandments.