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Religion and Society

The Truth of Calling on God unites Men and Cultures

On 27 October 1986 the representatives of the principle religions of the world were convened by Pope John Paul II to prayer together. Twenty years later that action still unlocks a great force of witness. Man perceives the need for his personal commitment to peace and realises that there is a profound connection between the will to power, and thus war, and sin. Hence the decision to place one's hope in God.

"To generate a world movement of prayer for peace" [cf. Homily of 25 January 1986]. This is the reason why John Paul II invited the representatives of the principal religions of the world to Assisi on 27 October 1986. It is rather significant that those who accepted the invitation of the Pope were many in number. This was an important confirmation of the fact that in the thousands of million of men who were symbolically present at Assisi through their religious leaders, the belief that the destiny of mankind, and of every individual man, is at stake in the complex and dramatic problem of war, is becoming increasingly rooted.

 

At this point to whom can man turn? Where can he find the energy to dominate the irresistible irrational forces that accompany the threatening preparations for war, and for nuclear war? Ordinary man, who is distant from the complex and balanced strategies of the few who can decide for war, perceives the need for his personal commitment to be at one with the commitment of other men so that peace can be established. He also realises that there is a profound connection between the will to power, and thus war, and sin. Hence the decision of people to place their hope in God.

 

Only God's initiative in relation to man can infuse meekness of hearts, which is the necessary pre-condition for a peaceful life at a personal level, and at the level of intermediate communities and planetary powers.

 

 

a Unique and Identical Nature

 

To place again one's own hopes for peace in a world movement of prayer and to invest one's own energies in it means to uphold a very precise conception of peace itself. Indeed, who would not be led to smile when faced with an attempt to erect a bulwark of peace side by side with complex and insecure equilibriums that are built upon weapons endowed with the capacity to destroy the planet: an unarmed movement made up of humble and fervent prayer? A banal observation is sufficient to demonstrate the apparent paradox of this initiative. Has man during his history ever not been able to use objects that he has built at the price of so much hard work and the deployment of so many resources? Will the memory of Hiroshima be enough to halt the logic of the will to power that seems to push contemporary man towards applying to every field the irrational technological imperative: I can, therefore I must?

 

It is precisely this troubled question that opens up the path to understanding that peace is first and foremost a gift of God. Indeed, peace is not first of all the outcome of a balance between forces that diverge around interests of various kinds. It is, rather, a dimension of the life itself of man his good.

 

The anthropological foundation of peace can be experienced by every man in his daily existence. In that existence man realises that to obtain peace means to address the truth and the moral task that this comparison inevitably generates. The indissoluble relationship that peace has with truth bears witness to the fact that peace is a gift of God. Indeed, how could man find peace of heart outside the relationship with other men and with the things whose ultimate foundation is God Himself? The anthropological dimension of peace, that is to say being at peace with oneself and with all men, discovers a beginning in God, a beginning of order that governs the very idea of justice and thus of co-existence between men and between peoples. Indeed, only in truth is there freedom, and only in freedom is there the dignity of every man and of every people. This explains why men who share albeit very disparate religious experiences replied with readiness of spirit to the invitation that was extended by John Paul II.

 

There is no break in the continuum between peace understood as a dimension of the existence of each man and peace understood as the overcoming of the logic of war within a concordant co-existence between peoples. To state that peace is a gift of God means to recognise the unique and identical nature of peace which nonetheless expresses itself in different ways. Without falling into alienating simplistic concepts, one may say that there cannot be peace without the passionate work of every person for truth in itself and the construction of a civilisation of truth and love. War, however, beyond the various theories of experts on its origins, is always a decision taken by the few. This is a profound meaning of the great statement by St. Augustine which John Paul II tirelessly echoes: 'peace is only obtained through peace and not through war!

 

But peace is a gift of God entrusted to man. It thus becomes a primary task for the life of every man, a task to which man is called to educate himself. The avoidance of war is possible only through a slow and patient building up of a new mankind. Education is the supreme pre-condition for this edification. St. Francis composed a famous prayer that may rightly be seen as constituting the contents of this pedagogic task: 'Lord make us the builders of peace; where hatred reigns let us preach love; where offence wounds let us offer forgiveness; where discord hurts let us build peace!'

 

For Christians, to await the final return of Christ 'living as far as this is possible in peace' [cf. Rom 12:18] means to be aware that peace between peoples, and thus the peace of mankind, is only possible beginning with the peace of the person. In addition, Christians know that peace requires a struggle, and a struggle that can always endure a setback. For this reason, God, who is the only creator of peace in the full sense, should be called upon.

 

 

a Privileged Condition

 

The world movement of prayer for peace that John Paul II helped to create has solid roots. Indeed, in the history of peoples and religions prayer for peace has occupied a position of primary importance. This imposing flow of innovations indicates that the daily wish for peace has always been a reason that leads to an exploration of prayer that privileged form of the relationship between God and man. Essentially, it is a request. And a request that is born within the concrete historical circumstances in which it takes place. It is precisely these circumstances that lead man to explore this constitutive dialogue with God. From the core of this request arises the supplication for peace as a privileged condition in which man can know himself, and in which truth, goodness and beauty are experienced dimensions.

 

But this prayer also arises from the perception, which is dramatically confirmed by history, that man does not know how to give himself peace on his own because on his own he cannot dominate the will to power that sin sows in the heart. Peace, in its personal and planetary dimensions, is structurally threatened by the arbitrariness by which man is tempted to experience his relationship with himself, with God, and with other men.

 

In the always invoked gift of peace man discovers that He who creates us, creates us moment by moment. We are bound to Him, the tenacious vigour of being. In Him, St. Paul said, 'we live, and move and have our being' [Acts 17:28]. This is because we are, to a certain extent, His line. Invoking peace from God in this way becomes the best guarantee of peace. Certainly not because this can exempt us from an incessant and complete work in favour of the creation of the multiform conditions that allow a state of peace but, rather, because God alone can change the heart of man and oppose the peace-inducing power of His love to the will to power.

 

 

the Demand for Truth

 

At Assisi the representatives of the principal world religions found themselves together to pray to the God of peace to preserve mankind from destruction. Every representative brought the riches of his religious tradition and of the peoples that live out that tradition. For this reason, after being welcomed by the Supreme Pontiff, each group went to a pre-established place to pray according to its own religious rite. And secondly, when all the groups were subsequently in the Superior Basilica of St. Francis, each one of them in turn prayed in front of the others who listened in silence. More than praying together, this was a matter of being together to pray. Indeed, each person took part in this great movement of prayer for peace with their own countenance. This fully corresponds to the idea of life of those men who look for peace through prayer as well. In praying for peace, they bear witness to the fact that peace is not obtained without truth. Indeed, prayer, in the final analysis, is a request for truth. For this reason, every authentic religion, when it explores its own identity, increasingly comes to truth. And to objective truth, which is not understood as being on the level of an eclectic and undifferentiated synthesis of different religious identities but is, instead, passionately pursued, recognised and welcomed where its manifests itself.

 

Peace, therefore, is a value only if it is pursued. Otherwise, like every other value from within the request for truth, from the experience of truth by which every person sacrificed their own identity, it would become an empty word, and thus the path of peace would become impossible. Indeed, it has always been the case that men have called for peace from the four corners of the earth andwage war! What men are profoundly divided about is not peace but truth.

 

But the desire for peace, which has become even more burning after the still fresh evidence on atomic destruction and beginning with the thousands and thousands of daily testimonies of new and more murderous instruments of war, can be the great path to which today God calls all men to truth, which is the irremovable foundation of a lasting peace.

 

For this reason, the meeting at Assisi, at the very moment when it became prayer, was an event of culture and civilisation.

 

It was an event of culture because prayer itself receives from form the specific nature of the encounter with God and one's brethren. And thus in prayer, too, this cultural form is communicated. In this sense the meeting at Assisi was a symphony in which one voice was in an ordered way harmonised with the other voices, precisely because it was the same voice!

 

The yearning that cannot be extinguished for peace that brought together the representatives of different religions also became a sign of civilisation. It was, in fact, an appeal directed towards all men but above all to the powerful of this world to recognise that the moral advance of humanity, which cannot but rest upon peace, requires an overcoming of ideologies. Indeed, ideologies hinder man from receiving the truth given by the nature of each person, and thus after a certain fashion something which in an embryonic way can be experienced by everyone but which is above all revealed by he who came to bring 'peace among men with whom he is pleased' [Lk 2:14].

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