At a moment when many people blame religion for war, and others excuse aggression in God's name, religious leaders offer a common, contrite prayer for world peace.
The pope, flanked by Eastern Orthodox and Anglican leaders
Pope John Paul II stood side by side with leaders of 11 world religions Thursday, along with representatives of over 100 faiths, praying for peace and preaching that religions should stand against war.
Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus, Jews and Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, prayed together in a rare and grand show of inter-faith ecumenism, along with representatives of lesser known faiths such as Zoroastrism and African animism.
They came on the Pope's invitation to the Italian town of Assisi, birthplace of St. Francis, a saint much of Christendom closely associates with peace.
The common prayer was a straightforward pledge against violence: "Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In God's name, may all religions bring upon earth justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love!"
The Pope warned that religions should never lose its way in "the dark clouds of terrorism."
"The shadows will not be dissipated with weapons. Darkness
is dispelled by sending our bright beams of light," he said.
Contrition, rather than self-righteousness, was the order of this exceptional day.
"We are here, as representatives of different religions to
examine ourselves before God concerning our commitment to peace, to bear witness to our shared longing for a world of greater justice and solidarity," the Pope said.
The Middle East, crucible of so much ongoing religious conflict, came into focus when the leader of the World Jewish Congress, Israel Singer, abandoned his notes to deliver an impromptu plea to Palestinian Muslims.
"You should tell your people, and we should tell ours, all
of us, all of us, to question whether land or places are more
important than people's lives. And until we learn to do that
there will be no peace," Singer said in a raised voice.
It was an oddly beautiful day in the medieval town of Assisi, which often hums faintly with choral chants coming from the cloisters of Catholic fraternal orders. Those sounds were augmented today by Bhuddist chant.