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Sunday, 18 November, 2001, 16:36 GMT
Pope calls Assisi peace meeting
Pope John Paul II
The Pope wants the gathering to be a gesture for peace
By David Willey in Rome

Pope John Paul II has called on leaders of the world's religions, and particularly upon Christians and Muslims, to travel to central Italy in January to pray for peace.

In these historic moments, humanity needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope

Pope John Paul II
Repeating a gesture he first made 15 years ago, the Pope called upon leaders to attend the gathering at the birthplace of St Francis in Assisi.

Speaking to pilgrims from his study window overlooking St Peter's Square in Rome, the Pope said at this moment in history humanity needed gestures of peace and to hear words of hope.

The Pope also called on the world's one billion Catholics to fast for one day on 14 December, which, as the Pope himself pointed out, coincides with the month when Muslims around the world are also carrying out their annual Ramadan fast.

Hand of friendship

During the current international crisis, the Pope has usually avoided making specific references to the war in Afghanistan.

On Sunday he expressed his sympathy both for the victims of the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September, and for Afghans, particularly women, children and old people, forced to abandon their homes because of the bombing.

Afghan woman and child
The Pope expressed his sympathy for Afghan women and children

On the one hand, the Pope wants to show his solidarity with Americans who justify the bombing of Afghanistan as legitimate self-defence.

On the other, he wants to promote dialogue with Islam.

During his worldwide travels, the Pope has visited 23 Muslim countries - the latest, Kazakhstan, as recently as September.

During that visit, he declared that religion could never be an excuse for war and held out a hand of friendship to moderate Islam.

See also:

11 Oct 01 | Europe
Bishop questions bombing campaign
03 Oct 01 | Americas
US shores up Muslim support
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