For the first time in 25 years, there will be no communal prayer at the world peace pilgrimage in Assisi Italy, on Oct. 27.
The pilgrimage, entitled “Pilgrims of Peace, Pilgrims of Truth,” was started by the late Pope John Paul II in 1986.
A prevailing theme of the gathering has always been an interreligious prayer, a tradition that will not be carried out by the presiding Pope Benedict XVI, who argues the prayer alludes to religious relativity, thus suggesting a similarity and reconciliation between all religions of the world.
“The emphasis is on the pilgrimage, not on the common prayer,” said head of the Vatican’s justice and peace office Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson.
“It's an exercise of dialogue, and dialogue always respects the specific identity of the people, of individuals,” he added.
Although no prayer will be said at the gathering in Assisi, the Pope will present a special prayer at the peace vigil at St. Peter’s Cathedral on Oct. 26.
Three hundred delegates from over 50 countries, including Hindus, Jews, Taoists, and Muslims, will be present at the pilgrimage. On Sunday, Oct. 27, a train will carry the religious representatives from the Vatican to Assisi, where they will then gather to share a frugal, vegetarian lunch.
Then each of the 300 members will take rest and have time for personal reflection in the numerous rooms of the Franciscan guesthouse in Assisi.
The religious leaders will then trek to the Basilica of St. Francis to reconfirm their commitment to peace.
Prominent religious leaders include the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Rajhmoon Gandhi, representing Hindus.
Representatives for Native American and African American religions will also be present.
This year, there will also be representatives with no overt religious affiliation, setting a new precedent for the pilgrimage.
The gathering reveals growing Muslim and Catholic relations. When the gathering began in 1986, only 11 Muslim representatives were present, compared to the 48 present this year.
This pilgrimage coincides with the World Day of Prayer for Peace, which encourages not only prominent religious leaders but all members of the religious community to pray for world peace.
When Pope John Paul II held the first World Peace Day pilgrimage in Assisi, 160 religious leaders attended.