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Pope meets religious leaders and refugees at Assisi peace day

Pope Francis greets participants in a day of prayer for peace in Assisi (AP)

Refugees and leaders and representatives of several religions, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others, joined Pope Francis Tuesday in a day of prayer for peace in Assisi, the hometown of St Francis, who preached tolerance and gentleness.

After chatting and shaking hands with dozens of participants, Francis sat down to dine with them in the Franciscan convent. The guests included 12 refugees who fled war and conflicts in Nigeria, Eritrea, Mali and Syria, which was represented by three Christians who fled the besieged city of Aleppo.

Francis took his papal name from the peace-loving saint who was born in the Umbrian hill town, where Franciscans from the religious order founded by the medieval saint care for the basilica and its renowned artworks.

St John Paul II established the inter-religious prayer gathering in Assisi in 1986.

This year, Christians were invited to pray in the Basilica of St Francis, while those from other religions will pray in the town that for centuries has drawn admirers of the saint who abandoned family wealth for an austere existence of preaching tolerance.

The closing event gathers all participants in Assisi’s main square for speeches by the Pope, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I, a representative each from Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, and remarks from a victim of war. Then time was allotted for a moment of silence for victims of war.

Francis has urged people worldwide to find time to pray on Tuesday whenever then can.

From the start of his papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has decried war and conflicts which he says are tantamount to a “Third World War in segments.”

He has also pressed for countries and individuals to welcome refugees. As an example, he flew Syrian civil war refugees back to Rome with him after his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of those fleeing fighting and poverty had set foot in Europe after risky journeys in smugglers’ boats.

Among those dining with Francis in Assisi was a 23-year-old man from Mali, who survived a voyage on a fishing boat from Libya, where human smugglers are based, to Sicily.