I was in Assisi yesterday when many international religious leaders gathered for what is called 'Thirst for peace' - the World Day of Prayers for Peace. Pope Francis arrived amid great excitement by helicopter. He was the host for the day as well as the Franciscans of the Sanctuary of St Francis. The pioneering work for this need to pray for peace was begun by St John Paul 11 thirty years ago. On that occasion the gathering was new and captured the headlines. For the second time in as many months Pope Francis has visited the special home of the original Francis and Clare.
In the lead up to Tuesday they had two days of discussion and debate with a great gathering for Mass in the Upper Basilica on Sunday morning. Several of the leaders attended Mass with the chief celebrant being the Bishop of Assisi. All the dignitaries had special ear pieces which gave the participants instant translations in their own tongue. It was interesting to wander round Assisi and walk shoulder to shoulder with men and women dressed in religious garb I had never seen before.
To see these same people at the closing ceremony was inspiring.
The closing ceremony itself was beautifully simple. Pope Francis said "there is no tomorrow with war. believers have no weapons but the weapon of prayer. Today we have prayed side by side and together and for each other...."
The Pope interacted with profound simplicity to several children and young people who waved messages of peace for future generations and then representatives of all religions of the world lit candles in a lovely Umbrian sunset.
There is no better place to pray for peace than in Assisi because it has an integrated harmony unique in the world.
Waking back to my accommodation as darkness falls over the lower valleys of Umbria tourists were rightly mystified by the events of a remarkable day in a remarkable place.
Faith is a powerful weapon and we underestimate its strength.
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