The silent and desperate appeal of thousands of refugees crossing the Austrian and German borders in search of help and freedom has crossed the Albanian border as well and has found a powerful megaphone in the opening day of the international meeting “Peace is always possible”, promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio. Thousands of people, mostly from Europe, are gathered in the Albanian capital to share the desire to build peace with more than 400 leaders of world’s major religions as well as prominent figures from the world of culture and international institutions.
Pope Francis said in a message sent to the conference read to the audience by Mons. Matteo Zuppi, auxiliary bishop of Rome: “ Erecting walls and barriers to keep out people seeking a peaceful place to live is a form of violence”. For his part, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said: “In times of massive migrations we say that every migration, if accepted and accompanied, could be a source of peace and development of a country, the beginning of a future for many.
“It is a challenge for every country and for Europe as a whole”, said Italian president Sergio Mattarella: “The flames of war are grazing our borders, causing misery, devastation and waves of refugees knocking on the doors of Western countries in the hope of finding salvation, hope and human rights. The reply of democratic nations cannot be one of defensive closure. Walls and barbed wire will not stop the fires from blazing. The solution resides in placing ourselves at the lead of new international policies. To do so, we will need an “intelligent, far-sighted and courageous political action. One that consists of promoting dialogue, development, integration and security for the population”.
Responding to the authoritative call from the pope in his Angelus prayer (“May every parish offer hospitality to a family of refugees”), the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio Andrea Riccardi launched a proposal to the Italian government and Europe to immediately institute a policy of sponsorship, an essential means for accepting refugees who have already arrived on the continent and for putting an end to perilous voyages across the sea“. “Heeding the desire of many citizens, associations and families who want to offer hospitality to refugees, we hereby propose – in the name of all religious leaders gathered here in Tirana – to introduce in European legislative systems the policy of sponsorship. The idea is to enable European citizens, associations, parishes and organizations to assume responsibility for asylum seekers and offer immediate hospitality to those who have already arrived as well as invite individuals and families directly from the danger zones...”, Riccardi added.
The other speeches that followed at the inaugural ceremony did not diverge from this trend of thought and included concrete proposals on issues of current events. A particularly impassioned plea came from the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans in Iraq, Louis Raphael I Sako: “The violence that is rocking Iraq, Syria and the Middle East is shocking. Shocking for our countries as well traumatic for the entire world. Humanity cannot sit back and watch”. The world’s great religions must take precise responsibility to stop the wars and build peace and jointly proclaim that “violence is contrary to God’s plan and contrary to the nature of man”. In the Middle East, he added, and in particular the jihadist ideology, which stems from tribal divisions, can only be defeated by achieving “ political reconciliation in Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Middle East”, based on constitutional reforms aimed at “including all components of civil society”.
Justice minister Andrea Orlando gave a greeting on behalf of the Italian government, thanking the organizers of the Community of Sant’Egidio “who have contributed to keeping the spirit of Assisi alive through dialogue and understanding between different religious faiths”. Orlando too brought up the challenge of “managing the migratory crisis, which calls upon Europe and its ability to manage globalization and the complex experiences that characterize it through policies based on solidarity and equality”.
An optimistic note came from rabbi David Rosen, a veteran of Sant’Egidio’s international peace conferences: “There has never before in human history been a time of so much communication, collaboration and cooperation between people of so many different religious origins for the benefit of society as a whole”.
Archbishop Anastasios, primate of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, which organized the conference along with the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Albanian Episcopal Conference, stressed how religious freedom and peaceful coexistence in his country go hand in hand with the creation of a society of solidarity, which presents itself as an example for all of the Balkans. “So that peace may be possible, peace between religions is a crucial prerequisite”. Andrea Riccardi commented: “Something has to open up in the world of religions in the face of the demand
for peace of so many populations, in the face of refugees knocking on our doors, in face of theologies of violence. Worshippers who just talk to themselves put the spirit to sleep. Religions must express the rebellion of our moral conscience against violence and evil.”
In these days this kind of coral rebellion against violence and evil is being repeatedly expressed in the course of the 27 panel discussions taking place and in the final prayer for peace.