VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2002 ( John Paul II lunched today with more than 200 religious leaders who participated in Thursday´s Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi.

The Holy Father received his guests in the Ducal Hall of the Apostolic Palace, one of the most beautiful rooms of the Vatican, decorated by 15th-century artists and restored by Gianlorenzo Bernini in the 17th century.

The religious leaders sat at 10 tables while John Paul II, surrounded by 12 patriarchs and heads of delegations, sat at the central table at the end of the hall, where Popes formerly washed the feet of 12 poor men on Holy Thursday.

The guests were served a strictly vegetarian menu, without alcohol, in order to respect the traditions of all.

"What happened yesterday in Assisi will remain for a long time in our hearts," the Pope said. "I thank you especially for your resolution in favor of peace and the courage to declare before the whole world that violence and religion can never go together."

"In spite of our differences, we are seated at this table, united in the commitment to promote the cause of peace," the Pontiff said.

"This commitment is certainly what God expects from us," he added. "It is also what the world seeks from people destined to religion. This commitment is the hope that we can offer at this particular time."