Pope urges world's religions to promote peace

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NAPLES, Oct 21 (Reuters) Pope Benedict told religious leaders, including Christians, Jews and Muslims, today that faiths must work together to stamp out religiously motivated hatred which uses God as an excuse for violence.

The Pope's comments came just minutes before the Vatican announced two priests kidnapped in Iraq had been freed by their captors, in a move a Vatican spokesman said lifted hopes for that country.

''Faced with a world lacerated by conflict, where violence is still justified in the name of God, it is important to reiterate that religions must never become a vehicle of hatred,'' the Pontiff said.

''On the contrary, religions can and should offer precious resources to build a humanity of peace, because they speak of peace at the heart of man.'' The Pope addressed scholars and religious leaders attending a three-day inter-faith gathering in the southern Italian port city of Naples. The conference is called ''For a World Without Violence: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue''.

Less than two weeks ago more than 130 Muslim scholars from around the globe called for peace and understanding between Islam and Christianity, saying the world's survival could be at stake.

The Pope did not address that document directly, but he spoke forcefully against invoking the name of God in any religion ''to justify evil and violence''.

''With respect for the differences between different religions, we are all called to work for peace and an effective effort to promote reconciliation between peoples,'' he said.

The Pope spoke before sitting down to lunch with religious leaders including Israel's Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and the spiritual head of Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He also sat with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William, the head of the world's Anglicans.

From the Muslim world, the Vatican said a cultural adviser to the government of the United Arab Emirates was also sitting at the Pontiff's table.

''I strongly hope that this spirit (of peace) spreads above all where tensions are strongest, where freedom and the respect for others are denied, and men and women suffer because of the consequences of intolerance,'' he said.

The Vatican expressed joy over the release of the two Catholic priests, who had been kidnapped in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul earlier this month amid reports they were being held for a 1 million dollar ransom.

''We were very worried. ... We hope that kidnappings like this one don't happen again,'' Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

Christians form a small minority in Iraq. A recent US State Department report on religious freedom estimated the country has about 1 million Christians, down from 1.4 million in 1987.

REUTERS SKB PM1945

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