Day of Prayer for Peace in the World
by Karl Müller, Germany
Invited by Pope John Paul II, representatives from twelve religions, including all world religions, came together in the Italian city of Assisi on January 24th to pray for peace. The invitation not only continues a valuable annual tradition instituted by the Pope 15 years ago, but it also fulfils an urgent need felt by all people.
The representatives of all religious communities emphasized their common commitment to peace in the world.
After John Paul II had addressed the various religious representatives, they withdrew for their personal prayers for peace. In his address he emphasized the common will 'to do our part in fending off the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred, armed conflict, which in these last few months have grown particularly ominous on humanity's horizon.' The Pope called upon all those attending to listen to one another as this in itself is already a sign of peace. 'In listening to one another there is already a reply to the disturbing questions that worry us. This already serves to scatter the shadows of suspicion and misunderstanding.' Yet this does not happen with weapons.
The Pope placed the task to create peace in the same context as the task to protect life in all of its forms: 'With daily renewed wonder, we note the variety of manifestations of human life, from the complementarity of male and female, to a multiplicity of distinctive gifts belonging to the different cultures and traditions that form a multifaceted and versatile linguistic, cultural and artistic cosmos. This multiplicity is called to form a cohesive whole, in the contact and dialogue that will enrich and bring joy to all.'
The Pope pointed out that history has always known men and women who by example have taught that '...it is possible to build between individuals and peoples bridges that lead us to come together and walk with one another on the paths of peace.' He emphasized that the commitment to justice and the readiness to forgive are the pillars upon which peace rests.'
Justice first of all, because there can be no true peace without respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, respect for the rights and duties of each person and respect for an equal distribution of benefits and burdens between individuals and in society as a whole. It can never be forgotten that situations of oppression and exclusion are often at the source of violence and terrorism.'
Yet forgiveness is just as important, because it alone can 'heal the wounds of the heart and fully restore damaged human relations.' Conflicts often arise from 'an unjustifi ed association of religion with nationalistic, political and economic interests, or concerns of other kinds.' Therefore: 'Once again, ... we declare that whoever uses religion to foment violence contradicts religion's deepest and truest inspiration. [...] There is no religious goal which can possibly justify the use of violence by man against man.'
At the end of the meeting in Assisi the representatives of all religious communities endorsed the Pope's words with impressive and pointed declarations of peace and justice of their own. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople pointed out: 'Although we belong to different religious traditions, we affirm that building peace requires loving one's neighbour in obedience to the Golden Rule: Do to others what you would have them do to you.'
The Indian Sikh representative called upon all to educate people to mutual respect and esteem, in order to help bring about a peaceful and fraternal co-existence between people of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.
The Metropolitan of the Russian-Orthodox Church committed himself to fostering a culture of dialogue, so that there will be an increase of understanding and mutual trust between individuals and among peoples, for these are the premises of authentic peace.
The representative of the Orthodox Church in Italy committed himself to defending the right of everyone to live a decent life in accordance with their own cultural identity, and to establish a community of their own in freedom.
Representatives of Islam committed themselves to a frank and peaceful dialogue, refusing to consider that there are insurmountable barriers between the different religions, and recognizing instead that appreciating the diversity of others can offer the opportunity for greater mutual understanding. Every possible effort should be made to offer the men and women of our time real hope for justice and peace.
The Confucian representative pronounced the intention to stand by the side of the poor and the helpless, to speak out for those who have no voice and to work effectively to change this situation, out of the firm conviction that no one can be happy alone.
The representative of Buddhism emphasized that in the absence of solidarity and mutual understanding between peoples, technological progress exposes the world to a growing risk of destruction and death.
The Mennonite representative finally declared that there was a firm conviction among all representatives present of the different religious traditions that peace and justice are inseparable. A just peace is the only path which humanity can take towards a future full of hope. 'In a world with ever more open borders, shrinking distances, and better relations as a result of a broad network of communications, we are convinced that security, freedom and peace will never be guaranteed by force but by mutual trust.'
'Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth Justice and Peace!', the Pope concluded.
Thus the meeting in Assisi was an impressive example of how people of good will from all religious communities can be brought together by one common will: the will to do everything possible to obtain a just peace, which fulfills the deepest desire and ambition of all people of all religions, cultures and nations. People do not want war, but desire a just peace.
It is all the more deplorable that the gathering in Assisi was not properly appreciated by the media, which, instead, spin-doctored their reports. The 'Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung', for instance, managed to surpass everyone with its report that the citizens themselves were responsible for the conflicts because 'citizens on the lower rungs of society are more willing to fi ght and get excited about war.'
The question arises, do people all over the world need to be forced 'to be peaceful' by dropping bombs and missiles on them, particularly if they oppose the dictate of power and globalisation?
The answer is No! The will to peace can be stronger, and the meeting of representatives of various different religions in Assisi is a valuable contribution to making this will become even stronger.