Mr. President of the Republic,
Illustrious Representatives of the Christian Churches and of the religions of the world,
I thank you, Mr. President, for being here with us.
I thank those who have welcomed this meeting, the authorities, and the Bishop of Assisi. I thank all those, dear friends, who have collaborated with their friendly and freely offered work for the creation of this climate of dialogue, through which Assisi has become a high place of peace. Here at Assisi - where the great John Paul II, twenty years ago, invited the religious leaders of the world and proposed to them his dream of peace.
Peace today can seem like an illusory dream. It appears that way on the stage of the middle east – and not only recently. It is the same in the serious African conflicts. And also in some societies where there is no social peace, and where the various groups, closed off, defend themselves from one another. The schemes of terrorists seek to show that peace is an impossible dream, and increase insecurity and fear of a faceless enemy.
Peace – it is said – is a dream of people who are incapable of facing reality. The preachers and publicists of hate and contempt remind us of this, saying that it is true because it is alarming. They affirm that conflict comes from the nature of certain civilizations and religions – it is their destiny and therefore is the future of all of us.
After the crisis of the ideologies, the failure of the utopian visions, it is as if there is a reticence, a deep fear to think of a world where peace and greater justice are possible. There is a fear of not being realistic, or of becoming defenseless before a hostile world.
One stops thinking about a more just world. And this applies especially to Africa. Emigration, which knocks at the door of Europe, doesn’t stop at the border, but expresses the crisis of the African world. It is there that we must intervene first of all.
These are among the problems raised in these days. But I will not speak of these.
I intend only to affirm that conflicts are not a metaphysical destiny. There are sources of responsibility that are political, cultural, human, which prepare conflicts, which hollow out abysses and allow wars to become cankerous. Religions, also, can allow themselves to be drawn in to the logic of war, to sanctify the hatreds, to bless the weapons. Human responsibility is a terrible thing.
But conflicts are not an inevitable destiny. From these days of dialogue between people of different religions, of different cultures, of distant countries, some without relations between them, emerges a message of peace: first of all spiritual, but one which involves men and women in the midst of their concerns.
This message becomes conversation, dialogue with the other, the one of a different religion, of a different world, even a hostile one. It reminds us that peace is the name of God and that God does not want war. When the religions speak of peace, they express the best of themselves, with a deep resonance that recalls something beyond themselves.
In the letter which he sent to this meeting, Benedict XVI affirmed, “Peace is to be built in the hearts. It is here that the feelings develop which can either nourish it or, on the contrary, threaten it, weaken it, suffocate it. For it is the heart that is the place of the interventions of God.” The great task of the religions is to build peace in hearts. To be peace, even in the midst of war, remains an aspiration that cannot be renounced, the dream of a world which is finally, human. Politics, culture, the relations between people in daily life, all have need of spirit, of breath: of dreams of peace, of the hope of building a better and more just future.
Religions have built a brotherhood out of different peoples. They can continue to do so, and to do so in ever-widening spheres, reaching out with wider arms. Today, peace needs us to learn to live together among different people. Everywhere there is this challenge: either live together in respect for others, or else slip, through a culture of conflict, into real and actual conflicts. Many, too many, are playing a risky game with our differences.
But men and women of religion, gathered at Assisi, have expressed the desire to refuse this game of enmity, and to build dialogue, to extinguish hatreds. These people do not work for the affirmation of one civilization or another, but for a new civilization: that of living together among different cultures, religions, and peoples.
This evening’s prayers have taken place in different places, because religions are diverse, but they did not happen one against the other, nor one ignoring the other. Now, coming together here, the believers show that prayer does not divide, but unites. This reminds us all that, since we are women and men, we are brothers and sisters, and we have a shared destiny whose name is peace.