Something unique will soon be happening in Barcelona, Spain – an event that has an important and needed word to say to our turbulent times. From October 3rd through the 5th, the annual Prayer for Peace gathering organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio will be occurring. The theme for this year’s Prayer is “Living Together in a Time of Crisis: Family of Peoples, Family of God” and it expresses very well what the Prayer for Peace is about. The Prayer for Peace brings together leaders of all the world’s religious traditions in a spirit of dialogue and respect consisting of discussion panels on a variety of topics, forums and a common pledge to work for peace. By so doing, the gathering witnesses to the world that it is precisely in the authentic practice of religion (and not its negation) where a unique and needed path toward peace and mutual understanding among peoples in our world can be found. True religious expression is a means for peace and not for conflict.
|John Paul II with world’s religious leaders in Assisi, 1986|
It was John Paul II who was the first to gather the world’s religious leaders together to pray for peace at an unprecedented meeting in Assisi, Italy in 1986. The Holy Father had the intuition that prayer, respect and dialogue could unite differing peoples together in the quest for peace, justice and the common good.
The small Community of Sant’Egidio was present at that first Prayer for Peace in 1986 – not in an organizing way – but as one witness among others to the event. But, the community did “catch” the intuition of John Paul II and following that first gathering began the task of organizing an annual Prayer for Peace. Often, following that first Prayer for Peace, John Paul II would encourage Andrea Riccardi (founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio) to keep the spirit of Assisi alive!
In many ways the Prayer for Peace is an enfleshed expression of the Second Vatican Council document, Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions).
In this age of ours, when men are drawing more closely together and the bonds of friendship between different peoples are being strengthened, the Church examines with greater care the relation which she has to non-Christian religions. Ever aware of her duty to foster unity and charity among individuals, and even among nations, she reflects at the outset on what men have in common and what tends to promote fellowship among them.
All men form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth (cf. Acts 17:26), and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all men (cf. Wis. 8:1, Acts 14:17, Rom. 2:6-7, 1 Tim. 2:4) against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city which is illumined by the glory of God, and in whose splendor all peoples will walk.
Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unsolved riddles of human existence…
|Professor Andrea Riccardi|
The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 1:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life.
The Church, therefore, urges her sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussions and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture.
I will be attending the Prayer for Peace and it will be the fourth one that I have attended. Why do I take the time and the effort to go?
|She’ar Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Israel in 2008|
I go because the Prayer for Peace is a powerful witness to the reality of religion as a path to peace in answer to the loud and vocal contention by some who choose to view religious expression solely as a source of conflict and division in our world and its history; a sad legacy of the past that humanity would be better off to just jettison and finally get rid of. While witnessing to this; the Prayer also stands solidly in prophetic testimony against those who do use religion as a source of violence and conflict. Without exception, the Prayer for Peace affirms that any violence or oppression in the name of God is a sin against God and humanity!
I go because I am a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ and it is precisely in the living of my faith that I am brought to a profound respect for others. The Prayer for Peace is an expression not of a false ecumenism and interfaith dialogue (either avoiding acknowledgement of honest differences in an attempt to water down truth into a bland syncretism, until no one is really satisfied nor any viewpoint respected, or saying, “Yes, we can have dialogue but only on my terms.”) but of that true ecumenism and interfaith dialogue which has discovered that it is exactly in authentically living and entering into the heart of ones own faith and belief that we find paths toward others and also points of encounter and dialogue.
|Closing ceremony of Prayer for Peace, 2009 in Krakow Poland|
I go because I do not accept the prevalent, impoverished and misguided anthropology and cynicism of our times that encourages people not to trust, not to believe in anything greater than themselves and ultimately, not to risk the vulnerability of love. I go because I believe we must all work to create and to secure a human space in our world – a space that allows for the true dignity and worth of every human person and therefore specifically necessitates a respect for the desire of belief.
When we forget God; we lose ourselves, we lose peace and our world suffers. This sad dynamic has been witnessed time and time again throughout history. We just need to look to the century just concluded (one of the bloodiest) and the witness of the many millions of men and women who died under the oppression of so many totalitarian and fascist regimes that denied and criminalized the practice of faith.
The Prayer for Peace runs from October 3-5, there will be videos of different moments in the gathering posted on the Community of Sant’Egidio’s website: (http://www.santegidio.org/). I encourage you to check it out and to join in this international witness of religion as a path to peace!