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Pope peace

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Thursday January 24 1:37 PM ET

World Religious Leaders Join
Pope in Peace Bid

By Philip Pullella

ASSISI, Italy (Reuters) - Pope John Paul and
religious leaders including Muslims and Jews,
Buddhists and Hindus, committed themselves on
Thursday to work for peace and shun violence.

Christian monks in brown woolen habits,
saffron-robed Buddhists, black-cloaked Muslims,
Sikhs wearing turbans, white-bearded Orthodox
patriarchs and rabbis traveled together on a peace
train to pray near the tomb of St. Francis.

``Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism
never again! In the name of God, may every religion
bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness
and life. Love,'' the Pope said.

He spoke at the end of an emotional day in which
some 200 religious leaders representing a dozen
faiths made pledges in the city of the 13th-century
saint most associated with peace.

Wearing his traditional white robe, the Roman
Catholic leader sat on a red stage flanked by
religious figures as they each addressed a crowd of
3,000 people in a white tent.

Solemn commitments to work for peace were read
in 11 languages including Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi
and Punjabi.

``We commit ourselves to proclaiming our firm
conviction that violence and terrorism are
incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion,''
said one read by Konrad Raiser, secretary-general
of the World Council of Churches.

The Pope, who lit peace lamps with other
participants, said they all wanted to ``do our part in
fending off the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred,
armed conflict, which in these last few months have
grown particularly ominous on humanity's horizon.''

The Middle East crisis came to the fore when Rabbi
Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress
departed from his prepared address and alluded to
the conflict with Palestinians.

``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, raising his voice.

A message read out on behalf of Sheikh
Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, grand imam of
Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque, spoke of ''restoring the
legitimate proprietors to their rights,'' an apparent
reference to Palestinian lands occupied by Israel.


Assisi, a medieval city accustomed to Western
choirs and Gregorian chants, was treated to
something different as religious pluralism ruled.

Geshe Tashi Tsering, wearing a crimson and saffron
robe, began his time on the center stage with a
Buddhist chant.

Chief Amadou Gasseto, of the traditional Vodou
animist religion of the West African nation of Benin,
said the occasion taught ``the art of knowing how to
respect one's adversary, of tolerating differences
and understanding others' convictions.''

It was the third such day of peace led by the Pope,
who has said he hopes the meeting will promote
relations with Muslims in the wake of the
September 11 suicide plane attacks on the United
States and the war in Afghanistan.

After a morning session, the religious groups went
off to pray in various rooms before sharing a
vegetarian lunch and returning to the tent for the
final pledges.

Rabbi Ron Kronish of Israel told reporters aboard
the peace train returning to the Vatican that he
would return to Jerusalem feeling ``spiritually
empowered'' to work for peace.

``Does it resolve anything tomorrow? No. Will it
have an impact in the long-run? I hope so,'' he said.

But outside Assisi, not everyone was happy with
the events.

``To pray with heretics, schismatics, rabbis,
mullahs, witch doctors and various idolaters creates
confusion among Catholic believers,'' Federico
Bricolo and Massimo Polledri, members of an
Italian government coalition party, said in a

(additional reporting by Crispian Balmer)

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