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Pope asks forgiveness for slave trade

By MOKHTOR DIOP

GOREE, Senegal -- Pope John Paul II asked forgiveness for the 'shameful' slave trade and encouraged cooperation between Muslims and Christians in two homilies Saturday during his eight-day trip to Africa.

After visiting the House of Slaves on the island of Goree, about 2.5 miles from Dakar, the pope asked God's forgiveness for the pain inflicted on African nations and citizens and recognized the role of Christians in the slave trade.

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'These men, these women and these children were victims of a shameful commerce in which many who took part were baptized but did not live up to their faith,' the pope said in the St. Charles of Borromeo church on Goree.

The House of Slaves, built around 1780, held 60,000 slaves in inhumane conditions before their departure across the Atlantic. It is estimated that 12 million black slaves were shipped from Africa to the Americas during more than 200 years of slave trade.

'Black men, women and children were brought to this narrow strip, torn from their land and separated from their families, to be sold like merchandise,' the pope said. 'They came from all countries and, chained, leaving for other places, kept as their last image of their native Africa the mass of basaltic rock of Goree.'

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'We can say that this island will stay in the memory and in the heart of all the black Diaspora,' the pope said.

John Paul warned against 'new forms of slavery, often insidious, such as organized prostitution, which profits shamefully from the misery of the population of the Third World.'

The Polish-born pope invoked the need to continue sending aid to Africa to help the continent and its people overcome their 'tragic difficulties.'

Later Saturday, John Paul told leaders of the Muslim community in the Dakar Chamber of Commerce, 'Christians and Muslims should live in peace, brotherhood and cooperation.'

Citing Senegal as a 'good example of this conviviality,' the pope said dialogue should continue between the two groups in this West African country in which 90 percent of the 6.8 million population is Muslim and 5 percent Christian.

'We should ensure all citizens, without regards to race, religion, language or sex, can have a dignified family life and that all have the same chance in the domain of education and health and that all can contribute to the common good,' the pope said.

Calling the effects of war 'one of the largest evils of humanity,' the pontiff said 'Christians and Muslims have a special duty to work towards peace, to collaborate in the creation of social structures, both national and international, which could reduce tensions and stop them from escalating into bloody conflicts.'

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Saturday afternoon the pope also spoke to young people in Dakar's Stadium of Friendship, which holds 60,000.

The pope will return to Rome on Wednesday after completing his eighth trip to Africa since being elected head of the Roman Catholic Church in October, 1978.

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