Pope John Paul II called today for dialogue among Christians, Buddhists, Moslems and Hindus in a message to all Asians in which he pledged "to do everything possible to cooperate with other believers in preserving all that is good in their religions and culture."
Speaking over the church's Radio Veritas, the pontiff coupled the proposal for interfaith dialogue with a call on Asian governments to "effectively guarantee" Catholic believers' "free and public profession of the faith and their religious convictions."
Earlier today, as if to underscore the church's concern for the plight of war-ravaged Asian nations, the pope met with Indochinese refugees in blistering heat at the World War II battleground of Bataan, where about 14,000 Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians await resettlement. Only about 600 of them were Catholics.
In his message, the pope said the church "in this age experiences a profound need to enter into contact and dialogue with these religions." Vatican officials described this as the most farreaching call for interfaith diaglogue ever made by a pope.
"My heart is heavy when I think of the many parts of your continent where the sound of war has not yet died down, where the people involved might have changed, but not the reality of war, where weapons alone are thought to provide security, or where brother fights brother in order to redress real or alleged injustices," he said.
The pope noted -- as he did in all his speeches in the past five days of his visit to the Philippines -- that poverty and social inequality existed among nations. He acknowledged that the industrialized world had imposed decisions and life styles on the less advanced nations.
"Justice and equity demand that each nation and the international community as a whole assume their part of the resonsibility for the development of Asia in true international solidarity," he said.
John Paul praised the great cultures of Asia revolving around Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, saying: "The Catholic Church accepts the truth and goodness found in these religions."
The hectic island-hopping schedule was beginning to wear down the pope. He almost stumbled going up the makeshift stand to deliver his speech, and he looked visably exhausted. He flew in from Legaspi City in southeastern Luzon to the hugh U.S. naval base at Subic Bay, where he boarded a helicopter for the trip to the refugee center.
Throughout his tour of the provinces, the pope was accompanied by Imelda Marcos, wife of President Ferdinand Marcos, who said she was instructed by her husband to be present wherever the pontiff went -- as a measure of hospitality.
However, the church had made known to her in various ways that it did not cherish the idea of the governemt taking advantage of the papal visit. She even mounted the stage in Bacolod City to make a speech minutes before the pope arrived to address sugar workers. Surprised church officials said they had no comments.
Questioned by reporters about church reservations concerning her presence in the papal party, the first lady replied: "Let's be honest. The church and state will gain, because the church and state are working for the same people."