Azerbaijan: frail Pope with a strong message

 Pope John Paul II appealed for religious tolerance and an end to violence on his arrival in Azerbaijan, yesterday. After getting off the plane, the Pope kissed the country's soil which two children offered him in a shallow receptacle, as is traditional when he visits a country for the first time. Instead of walking down the stair he was lowered to the tarmac on a special lift. Though he looked frail on the first day of his 25-hour visit to the Caucasus nation, he carried a strong message. During the welcoming ceremony at Baku airport he said: "From this gateway of civilization which is Azerbaijan," he said, "I address today a heartfelt appeal to those lands experiencing the upheavals of conflict. ... Everyone must be committed to peace. But it must be true peace, based on mutual respect, on the rejection of fundamentalism and every form of imperialism, on the pursuit of dialogue as the only effective means of resolving tensions, so that entire nations are saved from the cruelty of violence." Religions, he said: "should not be used as a tragic excuse for enmities which have their origin elsewhere. No one has the right to call upon God to justify their own selfish interests. ... I ask all religious leaders to reject all violence as offensive to the name of God and to be tireless promoters of peace and harmony, with respect for the rights of one and all." Later, meeting with religious and cultural leaders, the Pope said Christians, Muslims and Jews all share an essential belief in God, and should together "proclaim to the world: enough of wars in the name of God. No more profanation of his holy name." "I have come to Azerbaijan as an ambassador of peace. As long as I have breath within me I shall cry out: 'Peace in the name of God,'" he said. source VIS

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