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Muslims Join in Mourning Pope

Pope John Paul II is accompanied by top Sunni Muslim religous leader Sheikh Muhammed Said Tantawi, third from left (File photo - Feb. 24, 2000)
Muslims in the Middle East are joining in mourning Pope John Paul II, who was admired for his strong support for independence for the Palestinian people, as well as his opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Pope John Paul II strongly opposed the war on Iraq, and made frequent calls for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This made him a popular figure in the Middle East.

Mahmoud Shakel, who owns a shoemaker's shop in downtown Cairo and a devout Muslim, says the pope was a man of peace, respected by people of all religions.

Pope John Paul made efforts to promote dialogue and tolerance among religions. He was the first pontiff to make an official visit to a mosque. In 2000, he visited the Ummayid Mosque in Damascus.

Bishop Youssef Ibrahim Sarraf at the Notre Dame de Fatima Basilica in Cairo, says this visit was the beginning of a new dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

"This was a very important visit," said Bishop Sarraf. "Maybe, this was the first step to meet Muslims directly. This was the beginning, maybe, of real dialogue between the Catholic Church, between Christianity and Islam."

During his last visit to the Middle East, Pope John Paul also met with Sheikh Tantawi in Egypt. Mr. Tantawi is the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mosque, one of the world's oldest and most important Muslim institutions.

Sheikh Tantawi says the pope was a wise man, who worked for peace and stood by the oppressed. The Sheikh expressed his gratitude for the pope's role in Iraq and on behalf of the Palestinians, and his hope that the next pope would follow the ways of his predecessor.