Pope to hold peace summit with religious heads

VATICAN CITY Sat Jan 1, 2011 8:11am EST

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leaves after his first mass of the New Year in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican January 1, 2011. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leaves after his first mass of the New Year in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican January 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, worried over increasing inter-religious violence, will host a summit of world religious leaders in Assisi in October to discuss how they can better promote peace, he announced on Saturday.

Benedict told pilgrims and tourists in St Peter's Square the aim of the meeting would be to "solemnly renew the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith in the service of the cause for peace."

He made the announcement hours after a bomb killed at least 17 people in a church in Egypt in the latest attack on Christians in the Middle East and Africa.

The Assisi meeting will take place on the 25th anniversary of a similar encounter hosted by the late Pope John Paul in 1986 in the birthplace of St Francis.

That meeting was attended by Muslim and Jewish leaders and heads of many other religions, including the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

John Paul called on all nations and groups in conflict to silence their weapons during the meeting. Most groups adhered.

A main theme of the 1986 summit was the public repudiation of the concept of violence in the name of God.

"Humanity ... cannot be allowed to become accustomed to discrimination, injustices and religious intolerance, which today strike Christians in a particular way," Pope Benedict said in his New Year's Day homily to 10,000 people in St Peter's Basilica on the day the Church marks its World Day of Peace.

"Once again, I make a pressing appeal (to Christians in troubled areas) not to give in to discouragement and resignation," he said.

ATTACK ON CHRISTIANS

Hours earlier, in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria, a bomb at a Coptic Christian church killed at least 17 people and wounded 43 as worshippers gathered to mark the New Year. The Egyptian interior ministry said it may have been the work of a foreign-backed suicide bomber.

The attack in Muslim-majority Egypt was the latest against Christians that has worried Church officials.

On Christmas Day, six people died in attacks on two Christian churches in the northeast of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, and six people were injured by a bomb in a Roman Catholic Church on the island of Jolo in the Philippines.

In a message issued last month for the January 1 peace day, the pope said Christians were the most persecuted religious group in the world today and that it was unacceptable that in some places they had to risk their lives to practice their faith.

In November, 52 hostages and police officers were killed when security forces raided a Baghdad church to free more than 100 Iraqi Catholics captured by al Qaeda-linked gunmen.

The Vatican fears that continuing attacks, combined with severe restrictions on Christians in countries such as Saudi Arabia, are fuelling a Christian exodus from the region.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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