ASSISI, ITALY — Pope Benedict XVI joined Buddhist monks, Islamic scholars, Yoruba leaders and a handful of agnostics in making a communal call for peace Thursday, insisting that religion must never be used as a pretext for war or terrorism.
Benedict welcomed some 300 leaders representing a rainbow of faiths to the hilltop Italian town of Assisi to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a daylong prayer for peace here called by Pope John Paul II in 1986 amid Cold War conflicts.
While the event lacked the star power of 1986, when the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and others came together to pray, Thursday’s peace meeting included some novelties that the original lacked.
Buddhist monks from mainland China were on hand, as were four people who profess no faith at all - part of Benedict’s efforts to reach out to agnostics and atheists who nevertheless are searching for truth.
But unlike the 1986 event and successive ones in 1993 and 2002, there was no time given for any type of communal prayer.
Benedict had objected to the 1986 event and didn’t attend because he disapproved of members of different faiths praying in the presence of one another. As a result, his 25th anniversary edition removed any whiff of syncretism, or the combining of different beliefs and practices.
After a lunch of vegetarian risotto, salad and fruit, the participants retired to hotel rooms where they could pray individually or nap.
The German-born Benedict noted that in the 25 years since John Paul’s peace day, the Berlin Wall had crumbled without bloodshed. But he said nations are still full of discord and that religion is now frequently being used to justify violence.
“We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to discard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended ‘good,’ ” he said.
But the pope said it is wrong to demand that faith disappear from daily life to somehow rid the world of a religious pretext for violence. He argued that the absence of God from people’s daily lives is even more dangerous, since it deprives men and women of any moral criteria to judge their actions.
“The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence,” said Benedict, who as a young German was forced to join the Hitler Youth.
Traditional Catholics condemned the Assisi meeting - just as they did the one in 1986 - saying it is blasphemy for the pope to invite leaders of “false” religions to pray to their gods for peace.