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Pope denounces violence; religious leaders pray for peace

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2002

ASSISI, Italy -- Declaring that religious people must repudiate violence following the Sept. 11 attacks, Pope John Paul II led an extraordinary assembly of patriarchs and imams, rabbis and monks Thursday in this historic hilltop town in praying for peace.

Buddhist chants and Christian hymns resounded inside a huge plastic tent decorated with a single olive tree, a symbol of peace, in the home of St. Francis, the medieval monk associated with peace.

About 200 religious leaders accepted the pope's invitation to the daylong retreat and agreed on a joint, 10-point pledge proclaiming that religion must never be used to justify violence.

John Paul, looking down at a display of turbans, veils and yarmulkes from a red-carpeted stage, said religious leaders must fend off ''the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred, armed conflict, which in these last few months have grown particularly ominous on humanity's horizon.''

He called it ''essential'' that religious people ''in the clearest and most radical way repudiate violence, all 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,'' the pope declared.

It was one of the largest gatherings ever of Christian groups, bringing together Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Quakers and Mennonites, among others, as well as Orthodox Christians led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholo-mew I.

They joined representatives of 11 other religions: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Jianism, Confucianism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and followers of Tenrikyo and African tribal religions.

The Christians prayed together in the frescoed Lower Basilica of St. Francis, restored after a 1997 earthquake. Others were accommodated in the brick cells of nearby convent near the tomb of St. Francis, with crosses and other religious objects removed for the occasion. Muslims knelt on rugs and prayed in Arabic in a room facing Mecca.

While many of the Christian participants echoed the pope's message that religion must never be used to justify violence, others focused on different themes in their remarks, such as the need for dialogue among religions and of creating a more economically just world.

One of the Muslim representatives, Ali el Samman, representing the grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque and Islamic university, concluded his remarks by thanking the Vatican for its ''honorable support of the Palestinian people.''

Rabbi Israel Singer, head of the governing board of the World Jewish Congress, also referred to the Middle East conflict, saying there can never be peace until it is decided ''whether land or places are more important than people's lives.''

Singer was the only non-Christian to speak of the Sept. 11 attack, describing it as the work of ''madmen who claimed to be acting in the name of religion.''

Imam Mahmoud Hammad Ibrahim Sheweitah, a member of the Muslim delegation from Italy, was asked by reporters on the train whether Sept. 11 suspect Osama bin Laden was a good Muslim.

''We don't know. Because we only know about him from television,'' he replied. He said, however, that good Muslims could not be terrorists.

Assisi has twice before hosted papal prayer days: a daylong fast and prayer against nuclear war in 1986 and a rally for Balkan peace in 1993.

John Paul arrived on what Italian media dubbed the ''train of prayers,'' bringing the religious leaders with him on a two-hour trip from the rarely used train station in the Vatican. Italy's state railroad gave the Vatican a seven-car train, each car bearing the Vatican's coat of arms.

About 1,000 police were deployed along the route, and two police helicopters flew low overhead. Italian media said the ancient town would be sealed off for the duration of the ceremony.

The pope, who suffers from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, appeared in fine form all day, playfully waving his cane to the crowds as he left Assisi under a steady rain.

''He was positively glowing,'' said Rabbi Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel.

''He had so much spiritual energy. He sort of radiated it to everyone.''

Kronish said he was going home ''spiritually empowered'' but that it would be difficult to know whether the event was a success.

''Does it resolve anything tomorrow? No it doesn't. Will it have impact in the long run? I hope so,'' he said.

Among the leaders attending the retreat was Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, the site of the World Trade Center attack. He called the event an attempt by the pope to ''alert the world to the need to put an end to the conflict that is troubling us right now.''

''Coming from New York, I am especially concerned,'' Egan said on the papal train.

Asked about Italian press reports that the pope would like to visit the trade center site while visiting North America in July, Egan replied ''I'm sure they'll tell me sometime soon if it is true.''

The pope's itinerary currently does not include a stop in New York.

BYLINE1:By VICTOR L. SIMPSON

BYLINE2:Associated Press Writer

ASSISI, Italy -- Declaring that religious people must repudiate violence following the Sept. 11 attacks, Pope John Paul II led an extraordinary assembly of patriarchs and imams, rabbis and monks Thursday in this historic hilltop town in praying for peace.

Buddhist chants and Christian hymns resounded inside a huge plastic tent decorated with a single olive tree, a symbol of peace, in the home of St. Francis, the medieval monk associated with peace.

About 200 religious leaders accepted the pope's invitation to the daylong retreat and agreed on a joint, 10-point pledge proclaiming that religion must never be used to justify violence.

John Paul, looking down at a display of turbans, veils and yarmulkes from a red-carpeted stage, said religious leaders must fend off ''the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred, armed conflict, which in these last few months have grown particularly ominous on humanity's horizon.''

He called it ''essential'' that religious people ''in the clearest and most radical way repudiate violence, all 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,'' the pope declared.

It was one of the largest gatherings ever of Christian groups, bringing together Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Quakers and Mennonites, among others, as well as Orthodox Christians led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholo-mew I.

They joined representatives of 11 other religions: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Jianism, Confucianism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and followers of Tenrikyo and African tribal religions.

The Christians prayed together in the frescoed Lower Basilica of St. Francis, restored after a 1997 earthquake. Others were accommodated in the brick cells of nearby convent near the tomb of St. Francis, with crosses and other religious objects removed for the occasion. Muslims knelt on rugs and prayed in Arabic in a room facing Mecca.

While many of the Christian participants echoed the pope's message that religion must never be used to justify violence, others focused on different themes in their remarks, such as the need for dialogue among religions and of creating a more economically just world.

One of the Muslim representatives, Ali el Samman, representing the grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque and Islamic university, concluded his remarks by thanking the Vatican for its ''honorable support of the Palestinian people.''

Rabbi Israel Singer, head of the governing board of the World Jewish Congress, also referred to the Middle East conflict, saying there can never be peace until it is decided ''whether land or places are more important than people's lives.''

Singer was the only non-Christian to speak of the Sept. 11 attack, describing it as the work of ''madmen who claimed to be acting in the name of religion.''

Imam Mahmoud Hammad Ibrahim Sheweitah, a member of the Muslim delegation from Italy, was asked by reporters on the train whether Sept. 11 suspect Osama bin Laden was a good Muslim.

''We don't know. Because we only know about him from television,'' he replied. He said, however, that good Muslims could not be terrorists.

Assisi has twice before hosted papal prayer days: a daylong fast and prayer against nuclear war in 1986 and a rally for Balkan peace in 1993.

John Paul arrived on what Italian media dubbed the ''train of prayers,'' bringing the religious leaders with him on a two-hour trip from the rarely used train station in the Vatican. Italy's state railroad gave the Vatican a seven-car train, each car bearing the Vatican's coat of arms.

About 1,000 police were deployed along the route, and two police helicopters flew low overhead. Italian media said the ancient town would be sealed off for the duration of the ceremony.

The pope, who suffers from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, appeared in fine form all day, playfully waving his cane to the crowds as he left Assisi under a steady rain.

''He was positively glowing,'' said Rabbi Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel.

''He had so much spiritual energy. He sort of radiated it to everyone.''

Kronish said he was going home ''spiritually empowered'' but that it would be difficult to know whether the event was a success.

''Does it resolve anything tomorrow? No it doesn't. Will it have impact in the long run? I hope so,'' he said.

Among the leaders attending the retreat was Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, the site of the World Trade Center attack. He called the event an attempt by the pope to ''alert the world to the need to put an end to the conflict that is troubling us right now.''

''Coming from New York, I am especially concerned,'' Egan said on the papal train.

Asked about Italian press reports that the pope would like to visit the trade center site while visiting North America in July, Egan replied ''I'm sure they'll tell me sometime soon if it is true.''

The pope's itinerary currently does not include a stop in New York.



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