More than 200 representatives of various religious faiths, from 50 different countries, will participate in the pilgrimage for peace at Assisi on October 27. However, there will be no inter-religious prayer service at the event.
"The emphasis is on the pilgrimage, not on the common prayer," said Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, at a Vatican press conference on October 18. He said that Pope Benedict conceived the event as a pilgrimage, “which implies asceticism, purification, convergence towards a more exalted place, and taking on a community responsibility.”
The cardinal explained that any attempt at joint prayer would require an effort to ignore the serious differences among religions in their professions of faith and their modes of prayer. Any such watering-down of religious identity would defeat the purpose of the event, Cardinal Turkson said. "It's an exercise of dialogue, and dialogue always respects the specific identity of the people, of individuals," he said.
The Assisi event, which was announced by Pope Benedict XVI on January 1, will mark the 25th anniversary of the first such event, organized by Blessed John Paul II in 1986. That initial inter-faith service did include attempts at common prayer, which provoked concerns among some Catholics—notably including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—that Christians were being asked to give their assent to prayers that were incompatible with their faith.
At this year’s event, participants will be asked to pray silently, according to their own beliefs and practices, during a pilgrimage to the famous basilica of Assisi. There will also be rooms set aside for different faith groups for communal prayer.
Baha'i, Buddhists, Confucians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Musims, Sikhs, Taoists, and Zoroastrians, have already announced their plans to participate in the event, along with at least 100 leaders of various Christian groups, the Vatican announced at the October 18 briefing. In a new development, some professed atheists have agreed to join in the pilgrimage.
A few prominent religious leaders have refused to join in the pilgrimage. The Al Azhar university in Cairo, the leading institution of Sunni Islam, has said that it will boycott the event, in accordance with its recent decision to halt all talks with the Vatican. The Dalai Lama announced that he would be unable to attend because of a prior commitment, but voiced his support for the initiative and will send a representative.