VATICAN CITY (RNS)-- Pope John Paul II opened a Christmas season peace offensive Friday (Dec. 7), calling on all believers to fight terrorism and war with prayer, fasting and pilgrimage.

The Roman Catholic pontiff attended a "Mass for Peace," composed by Wojciech Kilar, a fellow Pole who wrote the scores for the films "Dracula," "The Ninth Door" and "Portrait of a Lady." Performed at the Vatican by the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Warsaw under the direction of Kazimierz Kord, it was the first of a series of events the pope has dedicated to the quest for peace.

John Paul will lead a worldwide fast for peace on Dec. 14, pray for peace on Christmas Day and deliver an address on World Peace Day, which the Roman Catholic Church celebrates on New Year's Day. He has also invited representatives of all religions to join him Jan. 24 in a pilgrimage for peace to the Umbrian hilltown of Assisi, where St. Francis was born.

"The 20th century, although marked perhaps as none other by war and bloodshed, closed with so much hope for justice and peace," the pope said. "Unfortunately, the tragic events of Sept. 11 abruptly shattered this trusting expectation.

"But we must not lose courage. Peace is a gift of God and, at the same time, the fruit of daily effort by men of goodwill," he said.

The Vatican issued a "liturgical-pastoral" note in six languages (English, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese) Thursday, explaining the pope's concern over the crisis precipitated by terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and instructing bishops on how to lead fasting, prayer and local pilgrimages.

"After the grievous terrorist attacks in the United States of America on Sept. 11, the Holy Father has on a number of occasions deplored such violence and expressed his concern for the consequences of the military action taking place in Afghanistan," the Vatican said. "More than two months after the attacks of Sept. 11, the situation remains serious, tension is very high and people everywhere are still greatly distressed."

"Without the Lord's help it will not be possible to find a solution to the tragic situation now facing the world, and it is hard to see how terrorism will be tackled at its roots without a conversion of hearts," it said.

Fasting, the note said, has been a foundation of spirituality since the days of the Old Testament, used by the Israelites to prepare for a difficult task, ask pardon for a fault or show grief over misfortune.

The Vatican said that out of "deep respect" for other religions, John Paul invited only Catholics to fast for peace, but it suggested that where "appropriate," bishops extend the pope's invitation also to "members of other Christian confessions, men and women belonging to other religions." It noted that Dec. 14 comes just before the end of Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

The Vatican told bishops to understand the pope's call for a day of fasting in a wide sense, "which freely involves all the faithful: children, who willingly make sacrifices to help other poor children; young people, who are especially sensitive to the cause of justice and peace; all adults, excluding the sick but not the elderly."

"Local tradition will suggest the best form of fasting to adopt: eating only one meal or taking only bread and water or waiting until sundown before eating," the note said. It told bishops also to arrange prayer services on Dec. 14 and to ask parishioners to donate to charity the money that normally would have been spent on food.

The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which coordinates Catholic charity, announced last week that on Christmas Day, the pope will donate the funds collected during the day of fasting to "victims of the consequences of terrorism and war."

To mark the pope's Assisi pilgrimage, the Vatican instructed bishops to select places to which Catholics can make local pilgrimages between Dec. 14 and Jan. 24 and, if possible, to organize a diocesan pilgrimage.

Bishops also should arrange for vigils to be held in every parish and religious community in their dioceses on Jan. 23, the eve of the Assisi meeting and, "if appropriate in the circumstances," invite other Christians to attend, the note said.

The Vatican said that the theme of "peace as the fruit of justice" will fit easily into the liturgy because the period of Dec. 14 to Jan. 24 "coincides mostly with the Advent and Christmas season, a time in which Christ is repeatedly hailed as the Prince of Peace and the King of Justice and Peace."
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