VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II, concerned about the continued impact on humanity of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, invited representatives of the world's religions to come to Assisi, Italy on Jan. 24 for a daylong prayer for peace.
In his weekly appearance Sunday at St. Peter's Square, the pontiff invited leaders of all faiths, but particularly Christians and Muslims, to ''proclaim before the world that religion should never become a motive for conflict, hatred and violence.''
''In these historic moments, humanity needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope,'' the pope said.
Assisi, a pilgrimage hilltown in central Italy, is the birthplace of St. Francis, the founder of the Roman Catholic Franciscan order. The pope has twice before invited leaders of various faiths to gather in Assisi to pray for peace.
During his appearance, the 81-year-old pontiff also asked Catholics to fast on Dec. 14 and pray to God for justice and an end to the many conflicts in the world. He noted that the date coincides with the holy month of Ramadan, the monthlong holiday of fasting and purification for Muslims.
The pope has spoken out several times about the Sept. 11 attacks and has decried terrorism in the past several weeks. But while the Vatican has acknowledged the right of legitimate defense against terrorists, it has made clear that any ''just war'' needs to avoid harming innocent people.
The pope, appearing in relatively good form, spoke to a crowd of several hundred in St. Peter's Square on a drizzly Sunday after celebrating Mass at a newly built parish on the outskirts of Rome.
In his homily at the Mass, the pontiff recalled the words of Jesus, which he said gave believers faith that their lives, ''despite dramatic upheavals, remain connected to the hands of God.''
As he left the parish on his way back to St. Peter's, the pope waved good-bye with his cane to the delight of the crowd.
His visit came after a former CIA counterterrorism chief, Vincent Cannistraro, warned in an interview published Sunday in the daily La Repubblica that the pope remained a target of terrorists, and suggested that they might strike during the holiday season that starts this week, with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Vatican officials have previously dismissed reports of particular threats against the pope, and did so again Sunday.
The pope first proclaimed a day of peace on Oct. 27, 1986 and invited representatives of the world's religions to Assisi. He brought together Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Assisi on Jan. 9-10, 1993 to pray for an end to the Bosnian war.
Some of the town's famed basilicas, including the basilica of St. Francis, were badly damaged following two earthquakes that jolted central Italy on Sept. 26, 1997. They have since reopened after major restoration projects.
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