CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

Print Version    Email to Friend
Praying with each other not against each other

ASSISI (SE): “We have not prayed against one another today, as has unfortunately occurred in history,” Pope Francis said on September 20 in addressing a gathering of world religious leaders at an interfaith prayer for peace in the world at Assisi in Italy.

Looking at the vast diversity of his audience he noted, “Our religious traditions are diverse. But our differences are not the cause of conflict and provocation, or a cold distance between us.”

Addressing the topic, We thirst for peace, Pope Francis said, “We desire to witness to peace. And above all, we need to pray for peace, because peace is God’s gift and it lies with us to plead for it, embrace it and build it every day with God’s help.”

The pope’s appearance in Assisi was part of a two-pronged plea for peace from the Vatican, as on the previous day on the other side of the world his second-in-command and secretary of state, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, had addressed the United Nations (UN) in New York on the role Vatican diplomacy is playing in bringing peace to war-torn areas of the world.

“The greatest challenge before us, however, is to identify and act on the root causes that force millions of people to leave their homes, their livelihoods, their families and their countries,” the cardinal told his audience.

The two reflect the determination of the Vatican to engage in movements for peace in order to end what Pope Francis has described as a world war in pieces; through prayer, dialogue and diplomacy.

Arriving in Assisi by helicopter, the pope first greeted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, from Constantinople, then other leaders of various faiths who had made the pilgrimage to the world prayer day, before addressing the whole gathering in the plaza in front of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

This was followed by a lengthy session of prayer in which Christians gathered in one spot and each religion prayed in its own tradition in various parts of the city.

The official Declaration of Assisi notes that it is now 30 years since the historic occasion in 1986 when Pope John Paul II brought people together to affirm the indissoluble bond between the great good of peace and authentic religious attitude.

It makes a point of saying that no war can be fought in the name of religion, stressing, “War in the name of religion becomes a war against religion itself.”

It boldly proclaims, “We have heard the voice of the poor, of children and the younger generations, of women and so many brothers and sisters who are suffering due to war… May the anguished cry of the many innocents not go unheeded.”

It then joins its voice with that of Cardinal Parolin at the UN saying, “Let us urge leaders of nations to defuse the causes of war; the lust for power and money, the greed of arms dealers, personal interests and vendettas for past wrongs.”

But in Assisi, Pope Francis added the dimension of prayer to Cardinal Parolin’s plea, saying, “Above all, we need to pray for peace, because peace is God’s gift and it lies with us to plead for it, embrace it and build it every day with God’s help.”

On the previous day, Cardinal Parolin had told the UN, “Since human choices provoke conflicts and wars, it is well within our power and responsibility to address this root cause that drives millions to become refugees, forced migrants and internally displaced persons.”

Pope Francis quoted his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, as saying at the same venue in 2011, “We further declare that violence in all its forms does not represent the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction.”

Pope Francis then reiterated his own firmly held belief that the way to resolve open questions must be that of diplomacy and dialogue.

Patriarch Bartholomew thanked those who had gathered in the spirit of friendship and prayer, saying that their presence is already a witness to the possibility of peace among diverse peoples of diverse faith, culture and background, as they have shown that the thirst for peace can be quenched.

“Peace comes from mutual knowledge and cooperation,” he stressed, adding that it can be quenched because peace is free and rooted in the heart of every human being, who are, as Christians believe, made in the image and likeness of God, and as humanists say, part of the same human family.

Pope Francis spoke strongly about the power of prayer in the search for peace saying that is precious in its own right. 

“The peace we invoke from Assisi is not simply a protest against war, nor is it a result of negotiations, political compromises or economic bargaining. It is a result of prayer,” he said.

He added that prayer and the desire to work for peace must go hand in hand, stressing that they are not illusory and not a daydream, as they both require commitment and honesty.

He said it is not the calm of those who turn their backs and walk away because their interests are not threatened, nor the cynicism of those who simply wash their hands, but the reality of those who are prepared to get their hands dirty.

He then joined his appeal to that of Cardinal Parolin at the UN, saying, “We turn to those who hold the greatest responsibility in the service of peoples, to the leaders of nations, so that they may not tire of seeking and promoting ways of peace, looking beyond their particular interests and those of the moment; may they not remain deaf to God’s appeal to their consciences, to the cry of the poor for peace and to the healthy expectations of younger generations.”

The Declaration of Assisi calls for commitment to eradicating the underlying causes of conflicts; poverty, injustice and inequality, the exploitation of and the contempt for human life.

In replying to the Assisi cynics, Pope Francis said people prayed without compromising their beliefs, but side by side in a sincere desire for peace.

He then quoted Pope John Paul as saying 30 years ago in the same city, “Peace is a workshop, open to all and not just to specialists, savants and strategists. Peace is a universal responsibility.”

More from this section