by Timothy Elphick DURING inter-religious prayers for peace at Assisi this week Pope John Paul II warned that Europe could be faced with self-destruction if ethnic wars were allowed to rage unchecked.
The Pope told 128 European Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders at the peace gathering in the Umbrian town, birthplace of St Francis, that the very survival of the continent was threatened by conflicts no one could control.
The two-day peace meeting of Europe's religious leaders was called by Pope John Paul II to help bring stability to the nations of eastern Europe. Highlights included an inter-faith meeting, a prayer vigil in St Francis's Basilica and a candle-lit procession.
The Pope prayed in particular for the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina "In the face of such a tragedy we cannot remain indifferent; we cannot sleep," the Pope said.
The conference heard five accounts of the fighting in the ex Yugoslav republic. But representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church were not present The Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle sent a message to Pope John Paul II that his Church would be unable to attend because the summit began just two days after the Orthodox Christmas on January 7.
He did. however. issue a statement in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, saying that he was "overcome by shame" at the events taking place in Bosnia in the name of the Serbian people.
At a special Mass on Sunday, the second day of the gathering, the Pope voiced his disgust at the spectre of "human beings using instruments of destruction to kill and destroy others like themselves".
The Mass was attended by most of the Muslim and Christian leaders gathered in Assisi. Jewish delegates prayed for peace in the bishop's residence.
Pope John Paul II said the presence of 35 Muslim leaden was a "source of mutual understanding and harmony" between the two faiths.
The Catholic Church of England and Wales was represented by Archbishop Couve de Murville of Birmingham. In a homily to mark the event, Cardinal Basil Hume spoke of his sadness that not all those invited to attend had done so. He said no one should dismiss the power of prayer in troubled parts of the world, including Bosnia, Somalia, Angola, the Middle East and Northern Ireland.
• A convoy of 12 horse transporters carrying supplies for Bosnia left Britain on Monday. The convoy, organised by the Medjugorje Appeal, was led by prominent figures from the racing world.