Pax Christi International released a statement of tribute today, expressing deep sorrow at the death of Pope John Paul II, "a great apostle for justice and peace." 'Its International President, H.B. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, its International Secretary, Etienne De Jonghe, and the bishops and members of Pax Christi, have prayed for Pope John Paul II as he prepared himself to see the face of God. Pax Christi expresses its heartfelt appreciation of the outstanding witness to peace and justice given by John Paul II to the Catholic Church and all humanity. Etienne De Jonghe, International Secretary of the Catholic peace movement, said: "Our lasting memory of Pope John Paul will be his fearless and persistent effort to promote peace and eliminate war as a means of resolving conflicts. TThat has been the dominant theme of his papacy". The Pope had a high regard for Pax Christi and he expressed this directly at an audience in 1995 marking the 50th anniversary of Pax Christi International: "Movements like yours are precious. They help draw people's attention to the violence which shatters the harmony between human beings which is at the heart of creation. They help to develop conscience, so that justice and the search for the common good can prevail in the relations between individuals and peoples." Pope John Paul saw peacemaking as an urgent task for everyone, not just for those, like himself, who have the ear of the world's political leaders. He called on everyone to make "gestures of peace" and he practised what he preached. The first pope to visit all continents, his trademark gesture of kissing the ground when he got off the plane symbolised the unity of the world and the preciousness of every part of it. John Paul II used many opportunities to give an example of reconciliation, most personally by forgiving the man who nearly killed him in 1981. He prayed for his assailant, Mehmet Ali Agca, and later visited him in prison. Healing divisions between religions has been a priority. In 1986, at the invitation of the Pope, leaders of the world's faiths gathered in Assisi and affirmed their united commitment to the work of peacemaking. Also in 1986, Pope John PaulII visited the Great Synagogue of Rome referring to Jewish people as "our elder brothers." During his pontificate John Paul II initiated a series of unprecedented apologies on behalf of the Church for the sins of history. Visiting Goree Island, Senegal, in 1992, he referred to "the horrible aberration of those who reduced to slavery the brothers and sisters whom the Gospel had destined for freedom," and said, "From this African shrine of black pain we beg pardon from heaven" As part of a solemn ceremony to mark the millennium, John Paul II asked forgiveness for sins against the people of Israel. Praying at the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, later in 2000, he declared: "the Catholic Church is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-semitism directed against Jews by Christians at any time and in any place". Time and again, in places associated with the worst deeds of humanity, the Pope has inspired hope and determination for constructive change: In Drogheda during "the troubles" in Ireland (1979): "I appeal to young people caught up in organisations engaged in violence Do not listen to voices which speak the language of hatred, revenge, retaliation.." In Hiroshima (1981): "To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace. Let us promise our fellow human beings that we will work untiringly for disarmament and the banishing of all nuclear weapons" In Coventry, during the Falklands Malvinas war (1982): "War should belong to the tragic past, to history; it should find no place on humanity's agenda for the future." In every crisis Pope John Paul appealed to all sides for dialogue and reason to prevail over violence. Before the Iraq war in 2003 he warned, "war is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations". Condemning "every terrorist action" in the Middle East, the Pope also argued, in 2003, "the Holy Land does not need walls, but bridges". Pope John Paul examined the issues of war, peace, freedom, justice and human rights in the world from many angles and on every possible occasion. His encyclical letters probed the complexities of international relations in a period when the role of the Polish pope was regarded as influential in ending the Cold War between East and West with the fall of Communism in Europe. At the same time the Pope repeatedly identified the "structural sin" of injustice suffered by the world's poor, and strongly criticised capitalist market values which crush them. Pax Christi International has especially appreciated Pope John Paul's recognition of the need for education to create a culture of peace and non-violence. For more than 25 years his annual messages for the World Day of Peace have explored the requirements for a peaceful world. Pax Christi's member organisations worldwide have popularised these themes in study, prayer and action at local level. Members of Pax Christi will continue to do that and to make Pope John Paul's heartfelt prayer their own: "Hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and violence among individuals and nations Hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country and every period of history who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace" May the Holy Father rest now in God's peace.'
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