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Asia Welcomes New Pope

Millions of Asian Catholics have welcomed the election of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new pope. But China - which does not recognize Vatican authority - has warned the new pontiff against interfering in its internal affairs in the name of religion.

From Australia to the Philippines, Asia has one strong message for the new pope: help foster peace and harmony in the world.

In the Philippines, with Asia's largest Roman Catholic population, which also has a minority Muslim community, religious leaders on Wednesday expressed the hope that Pope Benedict XVI would help promote greater understanding with other faiths.

Archbishop Rolando Quevedo of the southern Philippines has witnessed decades of religious conflict there.

"Benedict XVI by his name, and by his vision of becoming a pope of peace and reconciliation is encouraging our peace efforts and our efforts to relate with the non-Christians, particularly Muslims," said Archbishop Quevedo.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, whose country is predominantly Muslim, says the new pope could have an important role to play in bridging the divide between the world's religions.

"He can bring some harmony … into the thinking of the world which today is divided into all kinds of theories of clash of civilizations," stated President Musharraf. "He can play a role in suppressing these kinds of negative thought and bringing a better environment towards resolution of disputes."

But some are uneasy because the new pope has a reputation as a conservative and is known to firmly oppose abortion, human cloning, women priests, contraception and gay marriage.

Former Australian Catholic priest and religious affairs author Paul Collins hopes the new pope can be a modernizing force. About a quarter of Australians are Catholic.

"I would think that since he was able to garner so quickly so much support in the conclave he would have had to have got a lot of the more moderate cardinals on his side to get his two-thirds majority," said Mr. Collins. "I would guess that he has made some commitments to move in a more moderate and reconciling direction. At least I hope that that is true."

China - which cut ties with the Vatican more than half a century ago - says it hopes the new pope will work to improve relations.

But to achieve that, says Beijing, the Vatican must cut links with rival Taiwan and avoid meddling in Chinese internal affairs, "including in the name of religion." Beijing will not allow the Vatican to appoint bishops in China.

The authorized Catholic Church in China does not recognize the pope's authority, but there is an underground church that follows the Vatican.