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At the height of the Cold War, on 27 Oct 1986, Pope John Paul II invited the leaders of the world’s main religions to Assisi for “a day of prayer and fasting for peace.” Thirty years later, there is an even greater need to pray for peace because, as Pope Francis says, “a third world war is being fought piecemeal,” and blind violence and hatred are spreading across the globe.
It is therefore significant that leaders of the different religions agreed to come together again in Assisi on 20 Sep 2016 to pray for peace and to renew their commitment to work together for peace. They do so as bitter conflicts are being fought not only in countries that hit the headlines, like Syria and Libya, but also in others that get little media attention, like Yemen and Sudan; these conflicts are causing a refugee crisis of a dimension not seen since World War II, involving some 60 million people.
Convened under the banner “Thirst for Peace: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue,” this three-day event (Sep 18- 20) was organised by the Sant’Egidio Community, together with the Franciscan Families and the Diocese of Assisi. It brought together leading representatives from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and traditional religions. They participated in roundtable discussions regarding peace on the first two days, and on the third they prayed for it.
Pope Francis came for the final day and joined Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew; the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; the Syro-Orthodox patriarch of Antioch, Efrem II; the Israeli chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Meir Lau; and the head of Japan’s Tendai Buddhism. There was also a strong Muslim representation from 17 Islamic states, including Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Iman of Al-Azhar, the most authoritative Sunni Muslim center in the world.
That day, Christians prayed at the tomb of St Francis, while members of other religions prayed at other sites across the town. In the afternoon, they came together in a powerful witness to the world of their joint commitment to peace.
As in Assisi in 1986, this event highlighted the vital contributions all religions are called upon to make for the promotion, building and safeguarding of peace.
By coming to Assisi Pope Francis has affirmed yet again the urgent need for all religions to work together for peace through dialogue and to reject the use of God’s name to justify violence. – America