ASSISI, Italy: Pope Francis said on Tuesday the world “thirsts for peace” after praying with faith leaders for an end to religious fanaticism and indifference to the plight of war victims.
“We do not have weapons” to end wars and stop those who commit violence in the name of God, the Argentine pontiff told religious heads from across the globe gathered in the central Italian medieval town of Assisi.
But “as religious leaders, [we]are duty bound to be strong bridges of dialogue, creative mediators of peace,” he said, as fighting resumed in Syria and several people died in a second day of bloody violence in Congo.
“We never tire of repeating that the name of God cannot be used to justify violence,” and must cast off “the heavy burdens of distrust, fundamentalism and hate,” he told an open-air ceremony as the sun set.
The annual World Day of Prayer event, established by John Paul II 30 years ago and held in the hill-side town, aims to combat extremism in the name of religion and the persecution of people for their faiths.
The Pope had held one-on-one talks with leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second largest Islamic organization.
He also sat down with Rabbi David Rosen from the American Jewish Committee and Koei Morikawa, the Supreme Head of the Tendai Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism.
He had earlier bemoaned the coldness of those who turn a blind eye to refugees as easily as changing the channel on the television.
The 79-year-old pontiff had arrived amid tight security for lunch with the leaders and a group of refugees, including Syrians and Palestinians, an Eritrean, two Nigerian women and a 23-year-old from Mali who fled crisis-torn Libya for Sicily by boat.