Pope John Paul II Enters Mosque; Pleads Peace

May 6, 2001 -- On his second trip to the Middle East, Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to enter a mosque and the first to make such a meaningful gesture towards Islam.

In a speech at the Olmayyad Mosque in the center of Damascus, the Pope said he was mindful of past centuries of conflict in the Middle East between Christians and Muslims and that he hoped religions would now "find new ways, at the start of the third millennium, to present their respective creeds as partners and not as adversaries."

The Pope's purpose of this latest visit to the Middle East was to follow in the footsteps of Saint Paul. During Saint Paul the Apostle's liftetime the mosque was a Roman Temple. The temple became a Christian church and then 1,400 years ago was taken over by Islamic believers.

Pope Pauses at John the Baptist Tomb

At the center of the mosque, a shrine is believed to contain the head of John the Baptist, sacred to both Muslims and Christians.

As the Pope entered the mosque, his shoes were removed and he put on white slippers to walk on the carpeted floor, as is Muslim tradition. At Saint John the Baptists' tomb, the Pope touched the white marble shrine and paused for a minute in silent prayer.

The Pope urged Muslims and Christians to forgive each other for the past. He also appealed against religious fundamentalism of any kind. He said young people need to be taught respect and understanding.

"May the house of Christians and Muslims turn to one another in experience of brotherhood and friendship so God the Almighty may bless us with peace," he said.

"For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offendedone another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty andto offer each other forgiveness," he said in his address toMuslim leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Syria.

Tensions Still Arise

Syria's Mufti Ahmad Kaftaro, used his speech to make the latest in a series of attacks against Israel since the Pope arrived.

The Pope noted that Muslims and Christians shared a belief in the same single god. Then, in this region where religion has been used as an excuse for violence by many groups, he insisted religion must never be used to promote hatred or violence.

The call for mutual forgiveness was the continuation of a theme begun on Friday in Greece, where the Pontiff sought God's forgiveness for the wrongs committed by Catholics against Orthodox faithful in the past 1,000 years.

The Pope is headed to the center of Arab/Israeli conflict as he will visit the Golan Heights overlooking Northern Israel, sit eof the fiercest battles. John Paul II is scheduled to plant an olive tree.

ABC News' Bill Blakemore and David Willey contributed to this report.