ASSISI: Pope Francis slammed the “deafening silence of indifference” of the world to the suffering of war victims on Tuesday as he prayed with faith leaders for an end to religious fanaticism.
“The victims of war, which sullies people with hate and the earth with arms, plead for peace,” he said in a prayer at the Assisi meeting, as fighting resumed in Syria and several people died in a second day of bloody violence in DR Congo.
“Who listens to them? Who bothers responding to them? “Far too often they encounter the deafening silence of indifference, the selfishness of those annoyed at being pestered, the coldness of those who silence their cry for help with the same ease with which television channels are changed,” he said.
The annual World Day of Prayer event, established by John Paul II 30 years ago and held in the medieval town in central Italy, aims to combat extremism dressed up as religion and the persecution of people for their faiths.
The pope held one-on-one talks with faith 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 organisation.
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.
'Day, night bombs fall'
The 79-year-old pontiff had arrived amid tight security in Assisi 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.
The leaders had prayed separately in locations across the town before coming together in the sunshine for an outdoor ceremony where messages of peace were to be read out by each leader and one of the war victims.
At a mass at the Vatican earlier, Francis had denounced violence in the name of religion, saying “there is no God of war”.
He also reminded Western countries that while they had suffered a string of deadly terrorist attacks, there were parts of the world where cities were being flattened by fighting, prisoners were being tortured and families were starving to death.
“We are frightened by some terrorist acts,” he said as US authorities probed an attack possibly linked to the Islamic State group.
“(But) this is nothing compared to what is happening in those countries, in those lands where day and night bombs fall.”
“As we pray today, it would be good if we all felt shame, shame that humans, our brothers and sisters, are capable of doing this.”
Some 500 representatives from different religious traditions have been taking part in a series of round-tables with lay people in the town since Sunday, covering topics from religious violence to climate change and the migration crisis.
It is the pope's second visit in as many months to the picturesque hillside town, where his name-sake Saint Francis of Assisi was born and found God, renouncing his wealth for a life of poverty and becoming an emissary of peace.
The head of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, who took the papal name Francis in homage to the famous Christian friar and his devotion to peace and forgiveness, has insisted violence committed in the name of religion has nothing to do with God.
During a trip to Poland in August he said “the world is at war”, but driven by greed for “interests, money, resources, not religion”