Leaders of Varying Faiths Gather for Dialogue in Italy

Some 400 international representatives of a dozen world faiths convened in Rome for three days of discussion and prayer aimed at promoting world peace through interreligious dialogue.

“It was an extraordinary meeting,” Leon Klenicki, director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview. “It allowed face- to-face encounters with the leadership of many religions.”

Titled “Peace is the Name of God,” the Oct. 7-10 encounter was sponsored by the Community of San Egidio, a Roman Catholic organization dedicated to charity and aid work and the promotion of interfaith dialogue.

Held to mark the 10th anniversary of a precedent-setting interfaith march organized by Pope John Paul II in the central Italian town of Assisi in October 1986, last week’s meeting included Roman Catholic, Coptic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, as well as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Zoroastrians, Hindus and Sikhs.

Participants included senior clergy as well as scholars and lay activists. Also taking part in the conference were political figures, including Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, European Union Commission President Jacques Santer and Pierre Sane, secretary general of Amnesty International.

Among the Jewish representatives were Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, former French Chief Rabbi Rene Samuel Sirat and Rabbi David Rosen, the ADL’s director of interreligious affairs in Israel.

Delegates met in roundtable discussion groups on issue-focused themes touching on the ways that religion interacts with and influences contemporary life.

Topics included women’s role in religions, the role of religion in the mass media, the importance of prayer, the impact of religious fundamentalism, the role of religious organizations in aid work and charity, and religions and the environment.

The meeting culminated with an emotional outdoor ceremony during which participants lit candles, prayed for world peace and issued an urgent appeal that religion not be used as an excuse for hatred.

“We address all who kill or make war in God’s name,” the appeal said. “We remind them that peace is the name of God. It is absurd to speak of `religious war.’ Let not hatred nor conflict find support in religion.”

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