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Pope says religious difference not an excuse for violence

Pope John Paul II called on Christians and Muslims on Wednesday to repudiate violence, insisting that religion must never be cause for war.

Holding his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, John Paul reflected on his pilgrimage last month to Kazakhstan, a heavily Islamic nation where he also met with Catholics.

"There I encouraged them to work with Muslims to favour the authentic progress of society," the Holy Father said. "From that country, where followers of various religions live together peacefully, I reaffirmed with force that religion must never be used as cause for conflict."

The Pope told the audience in the square that "Christians and Muslims, together with believers of every religion, are called on to strongly repudiate violence, to construct a humanity that loves life, that develops in justice and solidarity."

In Rome on Wednesday, two days of seminars began bringing together Christian and Muslim leaders and experts. It was put together by Sant'Egidio Community, a Catholic group that has worked to resolve conflicts around the world, including brokering a peace accord in the 1990s for Mozambique.

Sant'Egidio leader Andrea Riccardi said he hoped the discussions would lead to a "clear-cut condemnation of terrorism."

One participant, Milan Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, said now is the time to "relaunch Islamic-Christian dialogue, even though the moment is a most difficult one. On the contrary, that's exactly why."

While the Pope has called for restraint in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, he also supports measures to "bring those responsible to justice," the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, has told reporters.