REPRESENTATIVES of major world religions gathered at Enryaku Temple on Mount Hiei in Japan to pray for world peace on August 4 in what was seen as a follow-up to a similar meeting in Assisi, Italy, last October. The Pendai sect of Buddhism in Japan was host for the religious ,summit, which included a presentation of concrete suggestions for attaining peace.
"Praying for peace involves also working for peace, and even suffering for peace," said a message issued by the more than 300 participants. "Service and sacrifice for this cause take different forms and methods, such as working for the resolution of conflicts, disarmament of nuclear arms and conventional arms, the preservation of the environment, human rights, care for refugees, and the transformation of unjust social systems. Religious people have to make a 'preferential option for the poor'," the statement added.
Besides Buddhists, participants represented Christian religions — Catholic, Protestants, Anglican and Orthodox — Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Sikh. About 30 participants came from outside Japan.
Organisers had hoped that Pope John Paul II could attend, but Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, represented the Vatican. The Pope sent a special message, calling for a "United commitment" to peace.
At Mount Hiei, a Buddhist monk swung a heavy log suspended on ropes against a huge bronze "bell of peace" for three minutes. Reverberations echoed across the valleys towards Kyoto, far below to the west, and Biwa, Japan's largest lake, on the east. Church bells were scheduled to ring simultaneously in Assisi, at the Vatican, and in Canterbury, England.
Most Japanese churches collaborated in planning the event. Some Protestant churches did not send representatives, however, because The Association of Shinto Shrines helped with the organising. Shintoism is still controversial in Japan because of its wartime identity with militarism and continuing ties to the emperor system.