The "Peoples and Religions" meeting, organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio, has drawn more than 400 religious leaders to Palermo to discuss the topic "Religions and Cultures Between Conflict and Dialogue" in the wake of Sept. 11.
The Holy Father reminded the participants of the first similar meeting in Assisi in 1986, which "marked the beginning of the new way of meeting among believers of different religions."
This meeting must not take place in "mutual opposition and less so in mutual contempt, but in the search for a constructive dialogue in which, without falling into relativism or syncretism, each one opens to others with esteem, all being conscious that God is the source of peace," the Pope added.
"In our time, it is even more necessary to live this spirit," the papal message continues.
John Paul II recalled that, last January, in the wake of Sept. 11, he convoked another World Day of Religious Leaders for Peace in Assisi, to state that "darkness is not dissipated with arms; it is removed with lamps of light."
The Holy Father hopes that the Palermo meeting will light up "new" lamps of light "in the whole Mediterranean area" and, in particular, in the Holy Land, "precipitated in a spiral of what seems unstoppable violence."
"In addition to the painful conflicts, how many peoples are oppressed by hunger and poverty, especially in Africa, a continent that seems to incarnate the existing imbalance between the North and the South of the planet!" the Pope exclaimed.
He added: "May a new appeal spring from Palermo that will make everyone be committed to justice and authentic solidarity with responsibility."
The three-day meeting ends Tuesday.