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Pope talks peace with faith leaders in Assisi

Pope Francis  / AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

Pope Francis / AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

Pope Francis met for peace talks in Assisi Tuesday with faith leaders and victims of war, broaching the issues of growing religious fanaticism and escalating violence around the world.

“Today more than ever, we need peace in the face of this war that is everywhere in the world,” the Argentine said ahead of his trip, which came as fighting resumed in Syria and the US investigated an attack possibly linked to the Islamic State group.

“Following the example of St. Francis (of Assisi), a man of brotherhood and kindness, we are all called to offer the world a strong testimony of our common commitment to peace and reconciliation among peoples,” the pontiff said.

The annual World Day of Prayer event, established by John Paul II 30 years ago and held in the medieval town in central Italy, aims to combat the persecution of peoples for their faiths and acts of violence in the name of God.

The 79-year old pope arrived by helicopter and was set to lunch with war victims before sitting down for talks with faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I.

The Vatican said he would also meet one-on-one with unnamed Muslim and Jewish representatives, as well as Koei Morikawa, the Supreme Head of the Tendai Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism.

– Prayers, peace messages –
At 4pm (1400 GMT), the leaders will retire to pray, in their own fashion and in separate locations, before meeting again for a joint ceremony where messages of peace will be read out by each leader and one of the war victims.

Some 500 representatives from different religious traditions have been taking part with lay people in a series of round tables in the town since Sunday, on topics from religious violence to climate change and the migration crisis.

It is the pope’s second visit in as many months to the picturesque hillside town, where his name-sake Saint Francis of Assisi was born and found God, renouncing his wealth for a life of poverty and becoming an emissary of peace.

The head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, who took the papal name Francis in homage to the famous Christian friar and his devotion to peace and forgiveness, has insisted violence committed in the name of religion has nothing to do with God.

During a trip to Poland in August he said “the world is at war”, but driven by greed for “interests, money, resources, not religion.

“All religions want peace, it’s the others who want war.”

In the wake of a series of deadly jihadist attacks in Europe, he also warned against equating Islam with terrorism, insisting there were fundamentalist Catholics too.

He blamed social injustices in the West for pushing young people to extremism, saying “terrorism… grows where the God of money is put first”.

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