World Religious Leaders to Meet in Sicily in September

Sant’Egidio Community Convoking 16th Annual Event

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ROME, JULY 16, 2002 ( With an eye toward addressing the problems of terrorism, poverty and globalization, about 350 Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious and lay leaders will meet in Sicily later this summer.

The Sept. 1-3 conference in Palermo will the 16th in a series of annual events organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Rome-based Catholic group involved in social service programs and mediation of political disputes.

This year’s event, expected to draw 5,000 participants, will focus on the topic «Religions and Cultures Between Conflict and Dialogue.» Two dozen round-table discussions will be held.

Sant’Egidio spokesman Mario Marazziti explained the purpose of the meeting, which will be close to the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

«We want dialogue to be the remedy in the short-, medium- and long-term for the temptation to divide the world, for the wall that tries to separate the Western, Jewish and Christian world from the Arab and Muslim world,» he told a press conference.

«Dialogue without naiveté, carried out intelligently, aware of all the present difficulties — I think it can be an opportunity that must be pursued with all our energy and everyone’s energy,» Marazziti said.

Sant’Egidio Community began to organize these meetings, following the first World Day of Prayer for Peace of religious leaders, convoked by John Paul II in Assisi in 1986. At that time, the Pope invited all to continue «spreading the message of peace and living the spirit of Assisi.»

The upcoming meeting in Sicily may also be important for ecumenism. The Orthodox patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople have confirmed they will send representatives.

Ishmael Noko, secretary-general of the World Lutheran Federation, and Suday C. Mbang, president of the World Methodist Council, will attend the meeting, as will dozens of bishops and more than 10 cardinals.

Rabbi Rene Samuel Sirat, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, will address the opening session.

Muslim representatives will include Iranian Ayatollah Mohammed Ali Taskhiri and Burundian President Pierre Buyoya.

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