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Peace and Dialogue between Religions

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The service to peace accompanies, and sometimes originates from, a tightly woven network of bonds of relationships and friendships born of the commitment to ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue that the Community has been carrying out since the eighties, in particular among the three great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - but also with other world religions.

The attainment of peace in contemporary conflicts requires, as it has been seen, substantial and prolonged efforts from a plurality of international actors, governmental and not, in a synergy of resources and intentions. Rarely are modern conflicts the classical wars between states and rarely are they resolved in terms of military victory or defeat. In ethnic guerilla warfare and fighting between distinct groups within the same state, very different than the traditional power-politics conflicts between states, new elements come into play: the coexistence between diverse cultures, religions and ethnicities.

Keeping in mind these characteristics, the Community of Sant'Egidio is bringing to fruition a remarkable experience and capacity which it has acquired in the field of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. In the social work with immigrants in Europe from the southern hemisphere, and in the friendly daily encounter of its members with the poor, the Community has learned to speak the grammar of reconciliation among diverse peoples through coexistence.

Lisbon, 26 September 2000
International Meeting of Peoples and Religions
March of Peace

During the negotiation of the Algerian peace platform, the international observers were struck by the fact that it is possible for a Christian community to reunite in its own house Muslim leaders, some of which are even fundamentalist. In the same way people are surprised by the numerous positive reactions from the Islamic world to the Algerian initiative. From its intense work on behalf of inter-religious dialogue came the attention and sympathy of the religious world for the actions of Sant'Egidio on the more properly political terrain of conflict resolution.

The same initiative for peace in Algeria was born during the Meeting of Peoples and Religions in 1994. The Meeting of Peoples and Religions has been annually organized by the Community since 1987, the year after the Prayer for Peace called in Assisi by Pope John Paul II. The intuition of the pope opens a new way of inter-religious dialogue and ecumenical dialogue founded upon the commitment of religions for peace.

In Sant'Egidio the importance of the event and necessity of not letting the initiative drop was felt. From it emerged a path of dialogue promoted by the Community, which over the years has revealed all of its spiritual profundity.

Bucharest - 1998
Patriarch Teoctist with Andrea Riccardi

Side by side, the great religions searched for a path together, lifting their eyes to gaze upon the world and the sufferings of men and women of our time. It is a common pilgrimage, carried out in the respect for differences but with the desire to converge with patience towards friendship and mutual love. The spirit of Assisi is in fact the opposite of the fearful self-referentiality which makes of religious peoples strangers and enemies. To carry this pilgrimage out means to go to the roots of each religious belief and there find a message of peace. In this sense the spirit of Assisi, of unity among Christians and dialogue among the religions, is like an icon which evokes the unity of the human race. This dialogue strengthens churches and religions against the constant danger of resigning themselves to intolerance and division.

Dialogue among churches and religions does not mean a loss of identity, nor does it mean giving in to a facile syncretism: on the contrary, without confusion but without separation, dialogue responds to the deepest reasons of love. Dialogue is an art of living in our fragmented and careless world. The friendship between believers must stand up to obvious difficulties and differences, in the awareness that there is no alternative to dialogue, thus becoming a pole of attraction for all who are searching for a world more just and human. As John Paul II wrote in his message to the meeting in Lisbon on September 2000:

"dialogue does not ignore real differences, but neither does it deny our common state as pilgrims bound for a new heaven and a new earth. Dialogue is also an invitation to strengthen that friendship which neither separates nor confuses. We must all be bolder on this journey, so that the men and women of our world, to whatever people or belief they belong, can discover that they are children of the one God and brothers and sisters to one another."

This is the soul with which since 1987 the Community has annually organized an inter-religious meeting, the "International Meetings - Peoples and Religions". These international meetings are inspired by the strength of peace of the religions - "weak strength" in the evangelical sense but specifically for this reason different than the worldly strength which provokes war. Prayer is at the heart of this weak strength, in the awareness that "only peace is holy" and that the great religions must work together towards its construction in conscience as well as in public life. Sant'Egidio believes it is necessary to continue to make the spirit of Assisi blow in every place, facing the problematic subject of the involvement of the religions in conflicts and of the necessity that these, strengthened by mutual solidarity and friendship, may not become instruments of violence and prejudice and may not be mocked by evil.


From the final appeal of the meeting "Peace is the Name of God",
Rome October 10, 1996, tenth anniversary of Assisi

""In the face of the wars of our time which have afflicted the world, we have placed our primary faith in prayer. God listens to invocations, subdues the hearts of the violent, gives wisdom and justice, consoles those who search for peace. We have remembered the victims of conflicts and still open wounds. Solemnly we repeat the invitation to innocent blood. Religions do not want war but peace! There is no holiness in war. Only peace is holy! (…) Convinced that the religions have a great responsibility in the preaching of forgiveness we address all those who kill or make war in the name of God. We remind them that peace is a name of God. To speak of religious warfare is an absurdity. No hatred, no conflict finds in religion an incentive."

Lisbon, 26 September 2000
Purification of memory
Patriarch of Lisbon and Rabbi Sirat

Along this pilgrimage of peace from city to city, there have been moments of great emotion in the course of the meetings, like in 1989 when in addition to the meeting in Warsaw the representatives of the Islamic world -where the Shoah is generally considered an invention of Zionist propaganda- agreed to visit Auschwitz where they changed their minds and were moved. The meeting in Bucharest in 1998 created the breakthrough in the difficult relations between Orthodox and Catholics in Romania and made possible the visit of the Pope to the country, later made in May of 1999.

To ecumenical dialogue and the dialogue between religions, since 1994 the dialogue between religions and the secular world has been added. Secular culture belongs to our tradition: a dialogue is therefore necessary with secular values of equality, respect for liberty and ethics, in a common search which supports the birth of a culture of coexistence and peace.


From the final appeal of the meeting in Lisbon,
26 September 2000

The requests of the poor have reached us, from prisoners of war, of fear and of hatred. We have in our eyes and in our hearts the sufferings of Africa and of the poor peoples of the earth. We have seen up close the inhuman consequences of the senseless exploitation of the planet. We know the immense possibilities and risks of globalization, if it is soulless. We have descended into the depths of our religious traditions and memory. Because of mistrust and conflicts is dialogue. Dialogue does not weaken the identity of anyone, but makes each man and woman see the best in the other and root oneself in the best that we can be. Nothing is ever lost in dialogue. Everything is possible through dialogue. Dialogue - we repeat - is the medicine which heals the wounds of division and deeply revitalizes our life, while rooting each person in truth, in reciprocal testimony, in charity and friendship. We came to Lisbon as seekers of peace and we have seen grow in these days a community of which the world is in need, the community of seekers of peace. It is a community made of religions, histories, languages, different sensibilities. It is our richness, and our future. In this community of seekers of peace has been placed the seed which helps one to be more human and more faithful.

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