Leaders of world religions meet for summit in Italy

Religious leaders from a a large variety of world's religions met Monday for a summit in the central Italian town. This tradition was started 20 years ago by Pope John Paul II to convey the message of peace and tolerance originally preached in these streets by St. Francis of Assisi centuries ago, AP reports.

The two-day "International Meeting and Prayer for Peace" will see dozens of religious figures joined by politicians, journalists and academics leading discussions on how to end conflicts and improve dialogue between cultures and religions.

Participants in the summit in St. Francis' hometown include Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Shintoists.

The summit will end late Tuesday, when prayers for world peace will be held across town, followed by a procession converging on the square in front of the St. Francis Basilica.

Discussion panels to be held during the meeting will focus on poverty and conflict around the world, but will also address specific crises, including the future of Lebanon after the recent war.

Also on the schedule are reflections on the forum's twentieth anniversary and on the legacy of John Paul, a pontiff who frequently reached out to other faiths and held the first "World Day of Prayer for Peace" in October 1986, when he gathered with leaders from non-Christian religions in Assisi.

Organized by the Sant'Egidio Community, a Rome-based lay Catholic group that mediates world conflicts, the usually annual meeting has doubled up this year. It was held in April in Washington, D.C., marking the first time the forum was held in the United States, and is gathering again in Assisi to celebrate the anniversary.

Last year, it was held in Lyon, France and previous editions have traditionally taken place in Italian and other European cities.