Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 21, 2002
Religious leaders bound for Assisi
Peace prayer vigil brings together global faith leaders
By CINDY WOODEN
Catholic News Service
More than 50 religious leaders, including two dozen Muslims, will join Pope John Paul in a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, Jan. 24 to pray for peace and condemn violence committed in the name of religion.
At the same time, in dioceses around the world, Catholics will host ecumenical prayer services to ask God for the gift of peace and interreligious meetings to make commitments to use faith to foster peace.
The pope will be joined by Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, the worldwide spiritual leader of the Orthodox, in leading the pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage, a two-hour train journey from the Vatican, also will include other Christian leaders, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and followers of traditional African religions, as well as the fore-mentioned Muslims.
The leaders will share reflections on peace during a morning gathering before going to separate places to pray for peace in the rites of their own traditions.
In the Basilica of St. Francis, the pope will pray with Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant representatives, along with Catholic bishops from several countries, including Pakistan.
Pope John Paul announced the meeting in mid-November as a religious response to terrorism and the threat of new conflicts in the world.
He said one point of the Jan. 24 gathering would be to bring leaders of religions, "in particular, Christians and Muslims," together to proclaim that faith must never be used to justify violence or hatred.
The day-long Assisi meeting is expected to close with the reading in Arabic, English and Italian of the religious leaders' "common commitment to peace."
Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and an organizer of the Assisi event, said the meeting "will say 'no' to religious wars and to all acts of violence and terrorism, especially when they are perpetrated in the name of religion."
Writing in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, he said the pilgrimage by train could be an important part of the meeting's message by showing "the followers of various religions are convinced it is necessary for them to travel together on the path that leads to peace."
The pope's Assisi meeting was preceded by a Dec. 14 day of fasting and prayers for peace by Catholics around the world.
Pope John Paul had said the world "needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope," and that the day of fasting and the interreligious meeting would be a start.
A Vatican official said Jan. 14 that although the list of participants was still provisional, at least 26 Muslim leaders from 14 countries had accepted the pope's invitation.
As in 1986, when Pope John Paul hosted a huge interreligious peace meeting in Assisi, the 2002 meeting was publicized with Vatican statements that members of different religions would be praying for peace at the same time, but not together.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said members of the divided Christian communities can and should pray together because they have been baptized into the body of Christ.
But, he said in an article in L'Osservatore Romano, Christians and followers of other religions "cannot pray together" because their prayers are expressions of a faith they do not share.
Also writing in L'Osservatore Romano, Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the papal initiative underscores the fact that the response of believers to war and violence must be one of "concentrating on the essentials, looking ahead, beyond the dark night, to have the courage for something new."