Pope John Paul II called for a day of fasting and prayer Friday to overcome hatred and violence. The special day was set to coincide with the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
The pope decided several weeks ago that December 14 was to be a day spent by Catholics, and all men of good will, fasting and praying to "implore God for a stable peace founded on justice."
The pope chose the day to coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, saying he hoped to help build understanding between Christians and Muslims, who he said were "called more than ever, in the present time, to be constructors of peace and justice together."
Although the 81-year-old pope held regular meetings in the morning, he spent most of the day fasting privately, with no special ceremony for the occasion. The Vatican said he sat down as customary for his lunch, but in front of empty plates.
A large number of religious and humanitarian groups across Italy adhered to the pope's call by scheduling vigils and special ceremonies.
Pope John Paul II has urged people to donate whatever they would have spent on food Friday to the victims of war and terrorism. The pope has spoken out many times in recent months about the September 11 attacks in the United States, saying nothing can justify terrorism.
The present tensions in the Middle East are also a serious concern for the pope. Following a meeting of Catholic leaders from the Holy Land held in the Vatican Thursday, the Vatican issued a statement saying there will be no peace in the region, until Israel withdraws from the occupied territories.