Two hundred non-Christian religious leaders will join the pope for a ceremony on October 27 that is being boycotted however by the influential Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, the Vatican said.
Pope Benedict XVI is hosting the event in favour of world peace, which was started by his predecessor John Paul II in Assisi, the birthplace of St Francis, and a variety of faiths will be represented including Islam.
Among the spiritual leaders attending will be Baha’i, Buddhists, Confucianists, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Sikhs, Taoists and Zoroastrians, joining 100 Christian leaders, Vatican officials said at a news conference on Tuesday.
A total of 69 Muslim leaders will also be present from 19 countries including Iran and Saudi Arabia, said Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
But the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar mosque has refused to attend as the Sunni Islamic centre froze relations with the Vatican after the pope expressed solidarity with Egyptian Copts following a New Year’s bomb attack.
Turkson said the meeting would call for “a common path” to peace but added that participants will all be asked to pray in silence during a short procession to the basilica of Assisi and in separate rooms after the ceremony.
The cardinal said the changes had been introduced after complaints following the first such meeting in Assisi in 1986 from traditionalist Catholics, who said the ceremony was promoting syncretism — the fusion of faiths.