Final preparations are almost complete in Assisi, the city of St Francis, ahead of a pilgrimage Thursday by Pope Benedict XVI and leaders of the world’s religions, a pilgrimage of prayer and reflection for peace. Philippa Hitchen , who is in Assisi, takes a look back to that first historic meeting 25 years ago:

It was a cold, grey day back in October 1986 as the religious leaders arrived in Assisi from countries across the world for that first historic day of prayer for peace, called for by Pope John Paul II. A bold gesture on the part of a Pope who believed deeply in the need to forge new friendships across the faiths, to break down centuries old walls of suspicion, to put into practise the Second Vatican Council’s spirit of openness towards people of other religious traditions and to work together for a new era of peace built, as the Pope put it, upon the four pillars of truth, justice, love and freedom.

Assisi, city of St Francis and St Clare, was an inspired choice for such a meeting. A place of pilgrimage down the centuries since the founding of the first Franciscan and Poor Clare communities in the early 13th century. A city whose art and spirituality have profoundly marked the religious and cultural history of Europe and beyond. A place where, as Pope John XXIII remarked, “the pilgrim almost inadvertently senses the splendour of art and the appeal of holiness.”

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