thank You for Your welcome, which enriches our meeting of people from different religious traditions, who have come to Rome only to dialogue, but carry the dream of a world of peace. People have given up hoping that this dream will come true. We are too used to war as a companion of news and history. However, war is the mother of all poverty. In our societies, hope for peace, which is also hope for a better world, is weakening or fading away. We want to get rid of this hopelessness, even though sometimes we do not know how, in a time which resembles the winter of hope.
Our coming to Rome to meet each other shows that religions need to get out of their self-referential boundaries (having a long history is no excuse for laziness): to reach beyond ourselves, because we need the other. The image of religious leaders together and in peace –with You today, in prayer on the Capitoline hill tomorrow – is the answer to those who sow hatred, who divide and affirm that religions are doomed to clash. We want to delegitimize a great scourge, religious terrorism, which blasphemously exploits the name of God, while killing men and women created in His likeness. We feel that peace is possible, but it does possess a spiritual dimension. Peace and religions are inseparable. We all have a strength, humble but real, which is prayer for peace. This requires that religious leaders and believers pray for peace, first of all. You showed it, Holy Father, when You asked the world to pray for Syria, in a dark hour of hopelessness in front of war. We are all grateful to You! When we look at the world, we can be neither hopeless nor lazy.
Another form of violence is exerted by economy and by loneliness: my thought goes to lonely elderly people, in institutions or thrown out of their homes (tomorrow is the grandparents’ day). My thought goes to the many poor people, to children, who are given things and not dreams, children who receive neither bread nor love, to the human misery of those who are alone. Peace and dialogue – this is at the heart of Sant’Egidio’s life – are bound to love for the poor and for the elderly who are wounded by a peaceless society.
Since the prayer in Assisi in 1986, we have experienced the strength of peace that rises from encounter and prayer: year after year, up to now. It was a prophetic intuition of Blessed John Paul II, which has come true in the lives of men and women of different religions. Today’s event of joyful meeting turns into a strength of hope for the daily life of the religious leaders, who sometimes face opposition, hardship of life and narrow-mindedness. Dialogue generates the courage of hope and it shows that winter can come to an end, if we do not give up to traditions of distance or new antagonisms.
Therefore, we are grateful to You, Holy Father, for the gift of Your welcome and of Your words of hope, that render You a companion on our path.