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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 23:08 GMT
Pope lights beacon of hope
The Pope with French Grand Rabbi Samuel-Rene Sirat
Leaders from many faiths joined the Pope
By BBC News Online's Peter Gould in Assisi

Judged as a spectacle, the Pope's day of prayer for world peace was certainly impressive.

There is no religious goal which can possibly justify the use of violence by man against man

Pope John Paul II
Two hundred religious leaders from around the world followed John Paul II into the pilgrimage town of Assisi.

Walking side by side and exchanging greetings were patriarchs and imams, monks and rabbis.

There were robes of every style and colour, and an eye-catching array of clerical headwear.

The watching crowd, largely Italian, responded with cheers and prolonged applause as the Pope welcomed his guests, and urged them to join his quest for peace.

Greater understanding

But what impact will his initiative have on the streets of the world, among those who engage in violence against those of other faiths?

Symbolic gestures do not usually persuade such people to lay down their weapons.

But the Pope knows that creating a better understanding between the world's religions, after centuries of mistrust and hostility, has to start at the top.

The Pope with Dalai Lama representative Geshe Tashi Tsering
The Pope wants better understanding between religions
He has clearly been alarmed by the events of 11 September and distressed by the latest upsurge of violence in the Holy Land.

He wants to create a climate of religious tolerance that makes it difficult for extremists to justify violence by referring to their faith.

"Tragic conflicts often result from an unjustified association of religion with nationalistic, political and economic interests," the Pope told his audience.

"It is essential that religious people and communities should in the clearest and most radical way repudiate violence, starting with the violence that seeks to clothe itself in religion.

"There is no religious goal which can possibly justify the use of violence by man against man."

Great presence

As the religious leaders lined up to be presented to the pontiff, there was nothing forced about the warmth of their greetings.

Many were clearly delighted at the opportunity to meet a man who still has great presence and a sharp mind, despite his obvious physical frailty.

The Pope with Franciscan friars at the end of the day of prayer
The Basilica is an important place for the Pope
The different faiths separated into smaller groups to offer prayers for peace in accordance with their own rites.

Crucifixes had been carefully removed from the areas used by non-Christian religions.

The Pope prayed in the Basilica of St Francis, which contains the tomb of one of the Catholic Church's best-known saints. His simple lifestyle, several hundred years ago, has made Assisi a place of pilgrimage.

John Paul II has made several visits here during the 23 years of his papacy. He chose the town for his first day of prayer for peace in 1986, when the main threat to the world was considered to be nuclear war.

In 1993, he invited leaders of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths to join him to pray for an end to the war in Bosnia.

Lamp of peace

At the end of Thursday's event, the representatives of the world's religions assembled again in the main square next to the basilica to make a joint commitment to work for peace.

Speaking for the Roman Catholic Church and its one billion members around the world, the Pope told them: "Never again violence! Never again war! Never again terrorism!

"In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life, love!"

He then lit a lamp symbolising peace. He wants it to become a beacon of hope for a troubled world.

See also:

24 Jan 02 | Europe
Pope leads world prayer day
23 Jan 02 | World
Worried Pope prays for peace
29 Mar 01 | World
Pope reaches out to Islam
22 Mar 00 | Middle East
Israeli and Arab press hail Pope
20 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Pope on a tightrope
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