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Pope's Kazakstan Visit Overshadowed by War Fears

Pope John Paul II made a call for peace and tolerance between people of all religions during a mass in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

The 81-year-old pontiff is on a three day visit that is being overshadowed by the possibility of war in the region.

Pope John Paul asked tens of thousands of people attending the mass to pray for peace and reconciliation in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

He said Christians and followers of all other religions should work together and not let the attacks divide them. He then ended the mass with a prayer, saying that religious faith must never be used as a reason for conflict.

Nearby Afghanistan may become the target of an anti-terrorist operation led by the U.S. military in retaliation for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The operation would be aimed at finding suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, who has been living in Afghanistan under the protection of the hard-line Islamic Taliban.

Vatican officials say the pope insisted that he go ahead with the long-planned trip to Central Asia despite security concerns following the September 11 attacks.

Many of those in the crowd were Muslim in addition to Catholics, who are a minority in Kazakhstan. The population of about 15 million people is mostly Muslim and Orthodox Christian.

Most of the Catholics are descendants of people from Ukraine, Poland, and Germany who were deported to Central Asia when Josef Stalin ruled the Soviet Union. Many priests and nuns were among those sent to notorious gulag prison camps located in the barren, windswept desert in central and northern Kazakhstan.

The pope is expected to make several more appearances during his three-day stay in the country.