VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II urged the faithful Saturday not to allow the Iraq conflict to stir up hatred between Christians and Muslims, saying that would transform the war into a "religious catastrophe."
The pontiff, who strongly opposes the war, made the comments to bishops from Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country with a small Christian community.
"War must never be allowed to divide world religions," he said. "I encourage you to take this unsettling moment as an occasion to work together, as brothers committed to peace, with your own people, with those of other religious beliefs and with all men and women of good will in order to ensure understanding, cooperation and solidarity.
"Let us not permit a human tragedy also to become a religious catastrophe," he said.
John Paul said Christians in Indonesia suffer discrimination, and he also cited last year's terror bombings in Bali that killed 202 people.
"In all of this, however, one must be careful not to yield to the temptation to define groups of people by the actions of an extremist minority," he said.
"Authentic religion does not advocate terrorism or violence, but seeks to promote in every way the unity and peace of the whole human family."
In the months before the Iraq war began, John Paul lobbied in favor of a negotiated solution. He has said there is no legal or moral justification for the military action, and has worried about how it could affect relations between Christians and Muslims.