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Many Faiths Plan to Join Pope's Pilgrimage to Assisi

Peace: Pontiff decided to lead the trip after Sept. 11 to decry the use of religion as a motive for violence.


VATICAN CITY — In a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pope John Paul II will lead representatives of Islam and many other religions on a peace pilgrimage to the medieval town of Assisi next week.

Two months ago, the Roman Catholic pontiff invited the religious leaders to travel with him to the birthplace of St. Francis on Jan. 24 to "proclaim before the world that religion must never become the motive of conflict, hate and violence."

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Friday that Orthodox, Eastern and Protestant Christians, along with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians and members of the Tenrikyo, Shinto and traditional African faiths have accepted the invitation.

The Orthodox delegation will be led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and will include patriarchs or representatives of the Greek Orthodox churches of Alexandria and All Africa, Antioch and All the East, Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Finland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Albania.

Also sending high-level representatives will be the Anglican, Reformed, Scottish Presbyterian, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Baptist, Mennonite, Quaker and Moravian denominations, the Salvation Army, Conference of Secretaries of the Christian World Communions and the World Council of Churches.

Ten rabbis, including three from the United States and two from Jerusalem, and 29 Muslim scholars, imams, grand muftis and sheiks also will participate.

Both the Dalai Lama and the archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, declined the pope's invitation because of other commitments.

The religious leaders in attendance will offer testimonials to peace, pray separately, eat a "frugal meal" in the refectory of the Sacred Convent of Assisi and end the pilgrimage by declaring their common commitment to peace and lighting a lamp of peace.

"Never again violence! Never again war! Never again terrorism! In the name of God may every religion bring to Earth justice and peace, pardon and life, love!" the pope will say, according to a text issued by his Office for Liturgical Celebrations.

It will be the third time John Paul has gathered with leaders of other religions to pray for peace in the home of the 13th century saint who lived in poverty and dedicated his life to peace and brotherhood.

The first Assisi meeting was Oct. 27, 1986, during the Cold War; the second was Jan. 9-10, 1993, amid strife in the Balkans.

In issuing his invitation to the third Assisi pilgrimage, the pope spoke of the "worrying tensions" caused by the attacks of Islamic terrorists on New York and the Pentagon and said he wanted in particular for Christians and Muslims to pray together. The Muslim delegation will be the largest on the pilgrimage.

The 81-year-old pope and his fellow religious leaders will make the two-hour trip to Assisi, 140 miles north of Rome, by rail, leaving from St. Peter's Station inside the Vatican.

The station was built under Pope Pius XI in the early 20th century, but Pope John XXIII was the first pontiff to use it, making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Loreto and Assisi on Oct. 4, 1962, the eve of the Second Vatican Council.

The Vatican spokesman said John Paul and his guests will travel in six or seven unmodified Italian railroad cars with double rows of seats on either side of a central corridor. The train's only stop will be a technical one--to switch from a diesel to an electric-powered locomotive 150 yards outside Vatican walls.

Security will be tight but discreet, Navarro-Valls said. He said a helicopter will hover above the train as it travels from the Vatican to Assisi and back.

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