Leaders of a dozen great world religions came together last week in this city where St Francis was born eight centuries ago to pray for peace and to commit themselves to work for global reconciliation.

It was the third inter-religious summit hosted by Pope Jean Paul II in Assisi, 200 kilometers north of Rome. The first summit, which gathered Christian and non-Christian leaders from all around the world, was in 1986. In 1993, Pope Jean Paul called together European religious leaders in this city to pray for peace in the Balkans, torn by civil war.

Addressing the January 24 gathering, Pope Jean Paul II recalled the tragedy of the terrorist attacks of September 11 in the United States that took thousands of lives.

"Humanity is always in need of peace, but now more than ever, following the tragic events which undermined its confidence and in the face of persistent flashpoints of cruel conflict which create anxiety throughout the world," the Pope said.

"It is essential that religious people and communities should in the clearest and most radical way repudiate violence, all violence, starting with the violence that seeks to clothe itself in religion and appeals even to the most holy name of God in order to offend man."

After the Pope's short speech, the various religious groups prayed separately in different rooms, then shared a communal meal offered by the Franciscan friars of the Sacred Convent of Assisi.

The day began when the Pope and about 60 official representatives of different religions set off on the morning train from the Vatican City station for Assisi, where other participants awaited their arrival on a decorated esplanade in front of the Basilica of St Francis. In all, the gathering included 250 religious representatives. ...

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