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Interfaith gathering prays for peace

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ASSISI, Italy, Jan. 24 (JTA) — Rabbis, imams, priests and patriarchs from a dozen world religions have joined Pope John Paul II in praying for peace and condemning violence in the name of God. The aim of what the Vatican called a Day of Prayer for Peace in the World was to hammer home the message that religion must never be the excuse for violence, war or terrorism. In statements that opened the events in the central Italian town of Assisi, participants recognized that religions often are used to justify conflict and exploit inequality. Later, they lit candles and issued a concluding declaration expressing a common commitment to work for peace. Religious leaders read out the declaration in English, Arabic, Hebrew and other languages. "Violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion," they proclaimed. They committed themselves "to doing everything possible to eliminate the root causes of terrorism," and committed themselves as well to the principles of dialogue and forgiveness. About 200 religious representatives took part in the day´s events, traveling from the Vatican to Assisi in a special train with the 81-year-old pope. They came in response to an urgent invitation the pope issued after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington and the war in Afghanistan. Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, is an ancient pilgrimage center where the pope hosted two previous interfaith peace days. Thursday´s ceremonies centered in and around the looming Basilica of St. Francis. At one point, members of the various faith groups were taken to different halls where they prayed separately according to their own rites.

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