Pope's retreat for peace ends with commitment to end violence in religion's name


Friday, January 25th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


ASSISI, Italy (AP) _ Religious leaders from around the globe are returning to their homelands after committing to work for peace and to end violence in religion's name.

Leaders representing 12 major religions _ Islam, Christianity and Buddhism among them _ made the pledge Thursday during a remarkable daylong retreat led by Pope John Paul II in this historic, hillside town.

Buddhist chants and Christian hymns resounded inside a huge plastic tent decorated with a single olive tree, a symbol of peace, in the home of St. Francis, the medieval monk associated with peace.

``Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again!'' the pope said in closing remarks to the crowd.

``In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life, love!''

One by one, religious leaders holding small, glass oil lamps lined up at the podium and read each of the 10 points of a communal commitment touching on the need for world peace, economic justice and basic human rights.

``We commit ourselves to proclaiming our firm conviction that violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion,'' the Rev. Konrad Raiser of the World Council of Churches said in the first pledge.

The pope, who suffers from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, appeared in fine form throughout the day, playfully waving his cane to the crowds as he left Assisi under a steady rain.

``He was positively glowing,'' said Rabbi Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. ``He had so much spiritual energy. He sort of radiated it to everyone.''

It was one of the largest gatherings ever of Christian groups, bringing together Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Quakers and Mennonites, among others, along with Orthodox Christians headed by the ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I.

They joined representatives of 11 other religions: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Jianism, Confucianism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, and followers of Tenrikyo and African tribal religions.

After the opening ceremony, the Christians prayed together in the frescoed Lower Basilica of St. Francis, restored after a powerful 1997 earthquake. Others were accommodated in the brick cells of a convent near the tomb of St. Francis, with crosses and other religious objects removed for the occasion. Muslims knelt on rugs and prayed in Arabic in a room facing Mecca.

Kronish said he was going home ``spiritually empowered'' by the day's events, even though he acknowledged it would be difficult to know whether the retreat was a success.

``Does it resolve anything tomorrow? No, it doesn't. Will it have impact in the long run? I hope so,'' he said.

He spoke to reporters on the special train the pope and other religious leaders used to travel to Assisi from the rarely used Vatican train station.

Italy's state railroad gave the Vatican a seven-car train, each car bearing the Vatican's coat of arms.

About 1,000 police were deployed along the route, and two police helicopters flew low overhead.