Representatives of a dozen faiths from around the world joined Pope John Paul II Thursday in the central Italian town of Assisi to pray for peace and condemn violence committed in the name of religion. About 200 priests, imams, rabbis, patriarchs and other religious leaders from around the globe journeyed with the Pope to Assisi on a special pilgrimage train for the Vatican's Day of Prayer for Peace in the World.
They came in response to an invitation issued by the Pope following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington and the war in Afghanistan.
"We have come to Assisi on a pilgrimage of peace," the Pope told them during a ceremony inside a huge white tent set up outside the looming Basilica of St. Francis.
He said they were there because they wanted to do their part in fending off what he called "the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred, and armed conflict, which have grown particularly ominous" in the past few months.
Just listening to each other as representatives of different faith communities can help, the 81-year-old pontiff said.
Since September 11, the Pope repeatedly has condemned violence in the name of religion.
The Peace Day ceremonies began with public reflections on peace by representatives of various religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
Members of the different religions then went to separate locations in the Basilica complex to pray or meditate according to their own rites.
They concluded the day with a ceremony at which they lit candles and issued a declaration committing themselves to work for peace. The declaration, read out by individual religious leaders in English, Arabic, Hebrew and other languages, said that violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion. They also vowed to do everything to eliminate the causes of terrorism.
Assisi is an ancient pilgrimage center and the birthplace of St. Francis, the medieval friar who founded the Franciscan order and is regarded by the Catholic Church as a prophet of peace. It is the scene of annual peace marches and in 1986 hosted a huge papal interfaith prayer day.