Illustrious Representatives of the Christian Churches and Communities,
and of the Great World Religions,
I offer you all my most respectful greetings and I express my spiritual closeness to the International Meeting for Peace promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio in Tirana.
These meetings follow one another in the path marked by St John Paul II with the first historical Meeting of Assisi in October 1986. Since then a pilgrimage has developed, of men and women of different religions, who year after year stop in various cities of the world. While the scenarios of history change and peoples are called to face profound – and at times dramatic – transformations, it is increasingly necessary that the followers of different religions meet with each other, in dialogue, walking together and collaborating for peace in the very “spirit of Assisi” that recalls the luminous testimony of Saint Francis.
This year you have chosen to stop in Tirana, the capital of a Country that has become a symbol of peaceful coexistence among different religions, after a long history of sufferance. It is a choice I agree with, as I demonstrated with my visit to Tirana in September last year. I chose Albania as the first European Country to visit, in order to encourage the path of peaceful coexistence after the tragic persecutions experienced by Albanian believers in the past century. The long list of their martyrs still brings back memories of that dark time, but it also reminds us of the power of faith, which is unbent by the arrogance of evil. In no other country in the world was the choice to reject God from the life of the people so persistent: a religious sign was enough to be punished with prison, or even death. This saddest of primacies profoundly marked the Albanian people, until the time when freedom was restored, when members of the various religious communities, tested by their shared suffering, found themselves living together in peace.
For this reason, dear friends, I am particularly grateful to you for choosing Albania. Today I wish to reaffirm with you what I said last year in Tirana: “a peaceful and fruitfulcoexistencebetweenpersons and communities of believers of differentreligionsisnotonlydesirable, butpossible and realistic” (Meeting with the Civil Authorities, 21st September 2014). This is the spirit of Assisi: to live together in peace, remembering that peace and coexistence have a spiritual foundation. Prayer is always at the root of peace!
Because its foundation lies in God, “peace is always possible”, as the title of your Meeting this year states. It is necessary to reaffirm this truth, especially today, while in some parts of the world violence, persecutions and abuse of religious freedom seem to prevail, together with resignation in front of conflicts that drag themselves on. We must never be resigned to war! And we must not be indifferent in front of people who suffer from war and violence. For this reason I chose as the theme of the next World Day of Peace: “Overcome Indifference and Conquer Peace”.
It is violence also to raise walls and barriers to stop those who seek havens of peace. It is violence to reject those who flee from inhumane conditions, with hope of a better future. It is violence to discard children and elderly people from society and from life itself! It is violence to widen the gap between people who waste what is superfluous and people who lack what is necessary!
In this world of ours, faith in God makes us believe and cry out that peace is possible. As believers we are called to rediscover the universal vocation of peace that lies in the heart of our respective religious traditions, and offer it afresh, bravely, to the men and women of our times. And I reaffirm what I said in this regard in Tirana, speaking to the religious leaders: “Authenticreligionis a source of peace and not of violence! No one must use the nameofGod to commitviolence! To kill in the name of Godis a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of Godis inhuman” (Meeting with Religious Leaders, 21st September 2014).
Dear friends, to state that peace is always possible is not naivety, it rather expresses our faith that nothing is impossible to God. Of course, we are required to be involved, personally and through our communities, in the great work of peace. May this land of Albania, land of martyrs, be the origin of a new prophecy of peace. I join you all so that, in the variety of our religious traditions, we can continue and live a shared passion for the growth of peaceful coexistence among all the peoples of the earth.
From the Vatican, 29th August 2015
Memory of the Martyrdom of St John the Baptist