Imams, patriarchs, monks and rabbis from around the world joined Pope John Paul II yesterday to pray for peace in a ceremony designed to proclaim that religion must never be used to justify violence.
In a colourful display of turbans, caps and veils, about 200 religious leaders answered the Pope's invitation, issued after the 11 September attacks, to come to the pilgrimage town of Assisi for a day-long retreat.
Sitting on a cream-coloured throne, the 81-year-old Pontiff told the audience that conflicts often arose because of "an unjustified association of religion with nationalistic, political and economic interests. It is essential, therefore, that religious people and communities should in the clearest and most radical way repudiate violence," he said. "There is no religious goal which can possibly justify the use of violence by man against man."
The event represented one of the biggest gatherings of Christian groups, including Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Quakers, Mennonites and Orthodox Christians. They joined representatives of other religions including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism and Sikhism.
Their retreat included an inaugural "testimony for peace" ceremony that was punctuated by Buddhist chants and Christian hymns, prayer sessions, lunch and a final, 10-point communal pledge for peace.
The Rev Konrad Raiser, of the World Council of Churches, said in the pledge: "We commit ourselves to proclaiming our firm conviction that violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion."
While many of the Christian participants echoed that message, others focused on different themes in their remarks, such as the need for dialogue among religions and of creating a more economically just world.
One of the Muslims, Ali El Samman, representing the grand sheik of Cairo's al-Azhar mosque and Islamic university, concluded his remarks by thanking the Vatican for its "honourable support of the Palestinian people".
Rabbi Israel Singer, head of the World Jewish Congress, also referred to the Middle East conflict, saying there could never be peace until the world decided "whether land or places are more important than people's lives".
Assisi is the birthplace of St Francis, the founder of the Roman Catholic Franciscan order.(AP)Reuse content