In a New Year’s day address, Pope Benedict XVI called for an interfaith meeting to urge for peace and an end to religious violence.
Speaking from St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Pope Benedict announced plans to hold an October summit similar to that of his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul. He said the purpose of the conference would be to “solemnly renew the effort of those with faith of all religions to live their faith as a service for the cause of peace.”
In his January 1st address, Benedict reflected on religious persecution throughout the world. “At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith,” he asserted, referring to both overt and subtle attacks on Christians and Christian symbols.
These attacks, he expressed, are an affront to religious freedom, human rights and ultimately, society.
“I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind,” the pope urged.
The October 2011 meeting will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi. Held by Pope John Paul, the meeting focused on the need for peace in the wake of the Cold War.
The meeting drew as many as 160 religious leaders from groups such the Baptist World Alliance, Lutheran World Federation, Disciples of Christ and Anglican Communion. Participants stood together with leaders of faith groups such as the Dalai Lama to proclaim that peace was both necessary and attainable.
In 2002, the late pope focused the World Day of Prayer meeting after the 9/11 attacks on Christian-Muslim relations. During the meeting, John Paul also touched on religiously-motivated terror attacks. He said that religious leaders need to do their part to fend off “the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred [and] armed conflict.”
In the wake of this year’s day of prayer, there have been deadly attacks against Christians and churches in Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan. Most recently, on New Year's day, a bomb exploded near a Coptic Christian church, killing 21 people. Pope Benedict condemned the attack, saying, "This vile gesture of death, like that of putting bombs near to the houses of Christians in Iraq to force them to leave, offends God and all of humanity."
Benedict expressed plans to address some of these severe forms of discrimination against Christians as well as what he calls “sophisticated” attacks against religious symbols in Western countries such as the United States.
“Often these forms of hostility also foster hatred and prejudice. They are inconsistent with a serene and balanced vision of pluralism and the secularity of institutions, to say nothing of the fact that coming generations risk losing contact with the priceless spiritual heritage of their countries,” he warned.