ROME— Pope Francis will head back to the Italian town of Assisi on Sept. 20 to participate in the closing of a World Day of Prayer for Peace, called “Thirst for peace. Religions and culture in dialogue,” and organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.
The visit will be the second pilgrimage by the pope to the birthplace of St. Francis in less than two months, as he was also there on August 4, when he paid an afternoon visit to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, home of the Portiuncola, a small chapel restored by the legendary medieval saint in the 1200s.
The Vatican confirmed the pope’s decision to participate through a short statement released on Thursday afternoon. The Franciscan family in Assisi had first shared the pontiff’s intention to come earlier in the week, and confirmed it through a post 0n their website hours before the Holy See.
“It’s a great joy for the Franciscan family,” said Father Mauro Gambetti, custodian of the Assisi friary.
Among the 400 delegates expected to participate in the Sant’Egidio event will be religious, political and social leaders from a variety of backgrounds, together with representatives from the world of culture. The VIP list includes Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
The “Thirst for Peace” encounter will run on Sept. 18-20, and it marks the 30th anniversary of St. Pope John Paul II’s invitation to the world’s religious leaders to join him in a prayer for peace back in 1986. This year’s edition is being organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio together with the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan Family.
Organizers of the prayer summit say the world “needs it now more than ever,” and present it as an attempt to counteract “a historically difficult moment because of the threats posed by widespread violence, terror and the ongoing wars in the Middle East and Africa.”
The event will be composed by a series of panels on topics such as: “Religions and violence,” “Mercy transforms the world,” “Martyrs in modern times,” “Muslims and Christians together for peace,” “Prayer saves the world,” “Women and peace,” “Economics and finance at the services of peace,” “New Europeans: more bridges and less walls,” “How to stop wars” and “Sustainable development and poverty reduction.”
Peace and reconciliation were the key elements of pope’s short address in Assisi last August, which was designed as a mostly private pilgrimage to the tiny chapel from where St. Francis founded the Franciscan order in the 13th century.
The pope’s pilgrimage served to commemorate the 8th centenary of the event known as the “Pardon of Assisi.”
“Too many people are caught up in resentment and harbor hatred because they are incapable of forgiving. They ruin their own lives and the lives of those around them rather than finding the joy of serenity and peace,” the pope said Aug. 4, during a short address he delivered before hearing confessions from some of those present.
The Community of Sant’Egidio is a Catholic movement founded in 1968 by layman Andrea Riccardi to serve the urban poor of Rome’s peripheries. Today, it’s become a key player in ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue, conflict resolution, anti-AIDS efforts, outreach to migrants and refugees and many other fronts.
Among other initiatives, Sant’Egidio runs the humanitarian corridor through which Francis has brought several Syrian families fleeing war to Rome.
Pope Francis has long seen ecumenism and interreligious dialogue as instruments for peace, often partnering with the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to advocate care of the environment and with leaders of other faiths to build a joint front against human trafficking and modern day slavery.
Last January, the first of Francis’s monthly prayer intention videos was dedicated to interreligious dialogue. In it, Francis says that “Only through dialogue will we be able to eliminate intolerance and discrimination.”
Interreligious dialogue is “a necessary condition for world peace,” the pope said. “We must not cease praying for it or collaborating with those who think differently.”
September’s will be Francis third visit to Assisi. He first visited on Oct. 4 2013, for the feast day of his namesake.