Image: Benedict XVI
Andrew Medichini  /  AP
Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful during his visit in Naples Italy, on Sunday.
updated 10/21/2007 3:26:18 PM ET 2007-10-21T19:26:18

Visiting one of Italy's most crime-ridden cities, Pope Benedict XVI told ayatollahs, rabbis, priests and patriarchs from around the world Sunday that religion must never be used to justify violence.

Benedict condemned the "deplorable" mob violence that he said permeated life in Naples, home of the notorious Camorra organized crime syndicate — the local version of the Sicilian Mafia.

The pope's visit coincided with a three-day meeting of religious leaders from around the world on the role of religion and culture in creating a violence-free world.

The pope told the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist leaders they must work for peace and reconciliation among peoples.

"In a world wounded by conflicts, where violence is justified in God's name, it's important to repeat that religion can never become a vehicle of hatred, it can never be used in God's name to justify violence," he said. "On the contrary, religions can and must offer precious resources to build a peaceful humanity, because they speak about peace in the heart of man."

While the pope's message was universal, it had particular resonance in Naples, which has long been one of Italy's most violent cities. Besides petty crime, it has been wracked by Camorra turf battles over drug and arms trafficking, prostitution rackets and other lucrative activities.

Naples for years had the highest murder rate of all major Italian cities, although it slipped to second place after Bari in 2006, registering 3.3 reported homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, Interior Ministry statistics show. Naples' surrounding Campania region has for years also topped the charts for robberies and car thefts.

Last year, there were calls for the army to be sent in after nine people were killed in Naples in two weeks.

Young people at risk for violence
During an open-air Mass in Naples' main square, Benedict called for programs in schools and the workplace to change a "mentality" of violence that he said increasingly draws in young people who have few economic opportunities.

"There are so many situations of poverty, of inadequate housing, of unemployment and underemployment, of lack of prospects for the future," Benedict told the crowd on a chilly and rainy day.

"It's not just the lamentable number of Camorra crimes, but also the fact that violence unfortunately tends to become a diffuse mentality, insinuating itself into social life, in the historic center and in the new and faceless outskirts, with the risk of drawing in young people in particular," he said.

Benedict prayed before the relics of Naples' patron saint, fourth-century St. Gennaro, in the cathedral. Faithful believe that a miracle occurs several times a year when the saint's blood, contained in a vial, liquefies when it is placed next to a box containing the relics of St. Gennaro's skull. The blood did not liquefy during Benedict's prayer.

During the one-day visit, Benedict met with religious leaders including Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, and Ayatollah Sayed Mousavi Bojnourdi, head of an Islamic study center in Iran.

Sole Muslim representative
At lunch, however, only one Muslim representative was invited to sit at Benedict's table — Ezzeddine Ibrahim, a cultural adviser to the president of the United Arab Emirates.

Ibrahim was among the 138 Muslim scholars who recently signed a letter to Christian leaders urging Christians and Muslims to build on their common belief in one God to work for peace.

Other religious leaders attending the meeting included one of Israel's chief rabbis, Yona Metzger; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians; the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; the head of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia; and Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu and Zoroastrian representatives.

They were gathered for the 21st annual peace meeting sponsored by Sant'Egidio Community, a Rome-based lay Catholic organization. Pope John Paul II hosted the first such meeting in the hilltop town of Assisi, birthplace of peace-loving St. Francis, in 1986.

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