Representatives of the Churches, Ecclesial Communities and Great Religions,
My heartfelt thanks for this visit. It is a joy for me! You are living intense days in this Meeting, which gathers together people of different religions and has a significant and challenging title: “The Courage to Hope”. I thank Prof. Andrea Riccardi for the words of greeting he addressed on behalf of you all, and with him the Community of Sant’Egidio, for having followed with tenaciousness the path drawn by Blessed John Paul II at the historical meeting of Assisi: to keep the lamp of hope burning, by prayer and work for peace. It was 1986, the world was still marked by the division in opposing blocks, and in that context the Pope summoned the religious leaders to pray for peace: no longer one against the other, but one beside the other. It must not, and could not, remain an isolated event. You continued that path and increased its impetus, involving in this dialogue relevant representatives of all religions, as well as lay and humanist thinkers. In these very months, we feel the world needs the “spirit” that animated that historical meeting. Why? Because the world is in great need of peace. No! We can never be hopeless in front of the pain of entire peoples, hostages of war, of misery, of exploitation. We cannot be indifferent and powerless spectators of the tragedy of children, families, and elderly people, struck by violence. We cannot let terrorism imprison the hearts of a few violent men who sow sorrow and death among many others. Most of all, we raise our voice as we say, all of us, ceaselessly, that there can be no religious justification to violence, there can be no religious justification to violence, in whichever way it surfaces. As Pope Benedict underlined two years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the meeting of Assisi, we need to erase all forms of religiously motivated violence, and together watch that the world does not fall prey to the violence contained in all projects of civilization that are founded on a “no” to God.
As leaders of the different religions, there is much we can do. Peace is everyone’s responsibility. To pray for peace, to work for peace! A religious leader is always a man, a woman of peace, because the commandment of peace is inscribed in the depth of the religious traditions we represent. But what can we do? Your meeting every year suggests a path: the courage to dialogue. This courage, this dialogue, give us hope. It has nothing to do with optimism, which is something else. Hope! In the world, in societies, there is little peace because there is lack of dialogue, people find it hard to get out of the narrow horizons of their own interests and open up to a true and sincere confrontation. Peace requires tenacious, patient, strong, intelligent dialogue, which regards nothing as lost. Dialogue can conquer war. Dialogue makes people of different generations, who often ignore each other, live together; it makes citizens of different ethnic origins, with different beliefs, live together. Dialogue is the path to peace. Because dialogue furthers understanding, harmony, concord, peace. That is why it must grow, it must spread among people of all conditions and beliefs, like a network of peace that protects the world, especially the weakest.
Religious leaders, we are called to be “in dialogue”, to act for the construction of peace not as middlemen, but as authentic mediators. Middlemen offer discounts to all parties, in order to attain a profit for themselves. Mediators, on the contrary, keep nothing for themselves, but spend themselves generously, until they consume themselves, knowing there is only one profit, which is peace. Each of us is called to be an artisan of peace, joining and not dividing, extinguishing hatred and not preserving it, opening up paths of dialogue and not raising new walls! To dialogue, to meet, to establish the culture of dialogue, the culture of encounter in the world.
The inheritance of the first meeting of Assisi, nourished year after year also in your path, shows how dialogue is intimately connected to everyone’s prayer. Dialogue and prayer grow or perish together. Man’s relationship with God is the school and food of dialogue with men and women. Pope Paul VI spoke of the “transcendent origin of dialogue” and he said “Religion of its very nature is a certain relationship between God and man. It finds its expression in prayer; and prayer is a dialogue” (Ecclesiam suam, 72). Let us continue to pray for peace in the world, for peace in Syria, for peace in the Middle East, for peace in many Countries of the world. May this courage of peace grant the courage to hope to this world, to all those who suffer because of war, to the youth who look at their future with concern. May God Almighty, who hears our prayer, sustain us on this path of peace. And I would like to suggest that now each of us, all of us, in the presence of God, in silence, all of us, wish peace to each other. Thank you!