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|Pope Leads Catholic World 'Fast for Peace'|
|12/14/01 at 15:00:07|
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Pope Leads Catholic World 'Fast for Peace'
December 14, 2001 09:06 AM ET
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope John Paul on Friday led the world's Roman Catholics in a day of fasting for global peace in solidarity with Muslims in the wake of attacks against the United States and spiraling violence in the Middle East.
The Pope, convinced that prayer can move minds and mountains, asked Catholics to skip at least one meal if their health permitted it and to give to charity the money they would have spent.
The unprecedented gesture was timed to coincide with the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, promote greater understanding between Catholics and Muslims, and stress that no Catholic should automatically link Islam with terrorism.
The Vatican asked Catholics to either abstain from all food from sunrise to sunset, as devout Muslims do, take just bread and water, or eat the minimum required for their health.
"This special day of prayer and fasting, a Friday at the end of Ramadan, gives Catholics a chance to show their solidarity with Muslims," said Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, secretary of the Vatican Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.
"By doing so, Catholics, in the words of the Pope, can show their respect for Islam, for the authentic Islam, Islam that prays, Islam that cares for the needy," he said.
The Pope was deeply shocked by the events of September 11. He has said the international community has a right to defend itself against attacks and that terrorists who say they are acting in the name of God profane religion.
Collecting boxes were placed in many churches around Italy and the Vatican set up a special account with an Italian bank to receive money that would be sent by the Pope to the needy, including the victims of war and terrorism.
The Pope's appeal to fast was taken up by some non-Catholics, but resulted in religious indigestion for members of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, which criticized the initiative.
Three League parliamentarians said in a statement that they refused to fast at the same time as "atheists and members of other religions that do not believe in the Holy Trinity."
The parliamentarians, Alessandro Ce, Federico Bricolo and Massimo Polledri, slammed the Pope's fasting initiative as "inter-religious, political, lay and ecumenical."
The trio blasted Fausto Bertinotti, a Marxist who is head of Italy's far-left Communist Refoundation Party, for participating even though he and many members of his party were atheist.
"We, who are not believers, feel taken up by this hope for peace, this encounter of women and men of different faiths who are committed to peace and the possibility of a different world," Bertinotti said.
Italian Protestants were also taking part in the fast, as were many environmental and green groups.
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