- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

ASSISI, Italy Imams, patriarchs, monks and rabbis from around the world joined Pope John Paul II yesterday to pray for peace in a ceremony designed to proclaim that religion must never be used to justify violence.
In a brilliant display of turbans, caps and veils, about 200 religious leaders answered the pope's invitation, issued after the September 11 attacks, to come to the pilgrimage town of Assisi for a daylong retreat.
They filled a tented arena that was decorated with a single olive tree, the symbol of peace.
Sitting on a cream-colored throne, the 81-year-old pontiff told the audience that conflicts often arise because of "an unjustified association of religion with nationalistic, political and economic interests."
"It is essential, therefore, that religious people and communities should, in the clearest and most radical way, repudiate violence," he said. "There is no religious goal which can possibly justify the use of violence by man against man."
The event represented one of the largest gatherings ever of Christian groups, bringing together Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Quakers, Mennonites and Orthodox Christians, among others. They joined representatives of 11 other religions: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, Sikhs, Jains, and followers of Tenrikyo, tribal religions, Confucianism and Zoroastrianism.
Their retreat included an inaugural "testimony for peace" ceremony that was punctuated by Buddhist chants and Christian hymns, prayer sessions, lunch and a final communal pledge.
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, such as the need for dialogue among religions and of creating a more economically just world.
Ali El Samman, a Muslim representing Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, 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."
Among the leaders at the retreat was Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, who called the event an attempt by the pope to bring various religious leaders together 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," Cardinal Egan told reporters.
Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, the founder of the Roman Catholic Franciscan order, and 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.

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