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ROME — From September 13 to 15 the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. Among the guests there will be Pope Francis, the highest authority of the Catholic Church.

When the first congress was held in 2003, the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano said: “Let the Spirit of Assisi be the Spirit of Astana”. Few people know, in fact, that the history of meetings of leaders of different religions began only 36 years ago in Assisi, Italy, the birthplace of Saint Francis, the saint who inspired the Pope in choosing his name. But this history would not even have begun if Pope Saint John Paul II had not defied much resistance, even within the Catholic Church, to convene there an unprecedented “Day of Prayer for Peace”, on 27 October 1986.

The world religious leaders were never seen together in a single photograph, before that day, each dressed in his traditional, more or less picturesque attire. That historic event still survives today in the “Spirit of Assisi”; the decades passed since then have shown how wise and powerful was the idea of giving life to such a meeting.

At that time, in fact, theories of the 'death of God' were very much in vogue in the Western world. Why then summon all religious leaders to pray together for peace? St. John Paul II knew that there is no hope of peace for the human race without drawing energy from its deepest spiritual resources.

Today, however, we often speak of the 'return of God'. But religion is often misused as a tool for hatred, war, terrorism, banner of different identities and civilizations fatally doomed to clash. So it is more urgent than ever to remove alibis to those who work against peace in the name of God, while globalization is multiplying the opportunities for contacts (or frictions) between men who were previously distant by geography, culture and religious affiliation.

This is why today it is important that the spirit of Assisi breathes even stronger than ever, in Nur-Sultan and everywhere.

* Paolo Fucili is an Italian journalist based in Rome, where he works for the Italian TV channel TV2000. He is specialized in covering news for the Vatican. He is a contributor for many newspapers and reviews. He is also author of several books and essays on various religious information topics

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