FRIDAY JANUARY 25 2002
World's religious leaders join Pope in prayer for an end to terrorism
BLACK-CLOAKED Muslim sheikhs, shaven-headed Buddhist monks and a kaleidoscope of other religious leaders joined the Pope yesterday to pray that their faiths never be used to justify a repetition of the September 11 terrorist attacks. "We wish to do our part in fending off the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred and armed conflict, which in these past few months have grown particularly ominous on humanit'y horizons," Pope John Paul II, 81, told the throng of sages, including Sikhs, Bahais, Hindus, Jains and Zoroastrians, gathered in an extraordinary pilgrimage at Assisi, the birthplace of St Francis.
About 200 leaders from 12 religions, resplendent in a brilliant display of turbans, caps and veils, travelled with the Pope to the Umbrian hill town from the Vatican's rarely used railway station aboard a special peace train.
Sheikh al-Azhar Mohammed Tantawi, the Sunni Muslim theologian widely considered the highest doctrinal authority in the Islamic world, said that he and his clerics "join with conviction to the call for peace, immediately and inseparably bound to justice".
Franciscan monks took down crosses from the walls in a convent near St Francis's tomb where several guests prayed separately after the initial ceremony with the Pope.
In another unusual gesture, the leaders in Assisi included the Vicar of Moscow, Bishop Pitrim, the highest ranking member of the Russian Orthodox Church to attend any event organised by a Pope.
Vatican sources said that the Pope understood the absence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, who was unable to attend because of a long-standing engagement to consecrate a bishop in America. A personal message was read out by Dr Carey's representative in Rome, Bishop Richard Garrard.
The Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, said that the event was an attempt by the Pope to bring 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.
Geshe Tashi Tsering, the Buddhist leader, wearing a crimson and sapphire robe, sang a Buddhist chant and said: "May I become at all times, both now and for ever, a protector for those without protection."
After a frugal lunch, the day ended with an assembly in which representatives of each of the 12 religions present made a commitment to peace.
©Copyright 2002, Times (London)