I am particularly glad to entrust to You, Cardinal Cassidy,
the task to convey my esteem and my greetings to the illustrious
Representatives of the Christian Churches and Communities and of the great
world Religions, gathered this year in Lisbon for the 13th International
Meeting on the theme: Oceans of Peace, Religions and Cultures in Dialogue.
My mind goes back to 1986 when, for the first time, men and women belonging to
different religions met together to call to God for peace, on the hill of
Assisi, where St Francis bore his witness. That could not remain a unique event.
Its spiritual impact was truly powerful: it was like a spring from which fresh
energies of peace began to flow. For this reason I wished the "Spirit of
Assisi" not to die out, but to spread all over the world generating a
witnesses of peace and dialogue everywhere. This world, plagued by so many
conflicts, misunderstandings and prejudice, has a desperate need of peace and
Therefore I would particularly like to thank the Community of Sant'Egidio for
the enthusiasm and spiritual courage it showed in collecting the message of
Assisi and spreading it in so many places around the world, through the meeting
of people of different religions. I remember the meeting in Bucharest in 1998,
which had such a vast echo in Romania, where, during my apostolic visit, I
heard people cry insistently and repeatedly: "Unitate! Unitate!".
Indeed, dear Christian sisters and brothers, that commitment to unity remains a
priority. We are looking with hope at the century that has just begun, because
- as I wrote in "Ut Unum Sint" - "The long history of Christians,
marked by so many divisions, seems to converge once again towards Jesus Christ,
the source of its unity". (n.22).
I believe that the "Spirit of Assisi" represents a providential gift
for our times. In the diversity of religious expressions, honestly recognized
as such, the fact of standing side by side manifests, also in a visible way,
how deeply the human family yearns for unity. We all have to walk towards this
common goal. I remember when, as a young bishop during the Second Vatican
Council, I also signed the Declaration "Nostra Aetate" which started
a fruitful relationship among the Catholic Church, Judaism, Islam and the other
religions. That Council declaration states that the Church, "in her tasks
of promoting unity and love among human beings and among nations, considers,
above all, what they have in common and leads them to share their common
destiny" (n. 1).
Dialogue among religions must aim to this and must act for this. Today, with
the Grace of God, this dialogue is no longer only an auspice; it has become a
reality, even if the path ahead of us is still long.
How could we not be grateful to the Lord for the gift of this mutual opening,
which is at the base of a deeper understanding between the Catholic Church and
Judaism? The memories of the unforgettable pilgrimage in the Holy Land are
still alive in me. Yet, meaningful fruits have been achieved also in the path
of encounter with Islam, with the Eastern religions and with the great cultures
of the contemporary world.
At the dawn of the new millennium we must not slow our pace. On the contrary,
it is necessary to hasten even more on such a promising journey.
You know well that dialogue neither ignores real differences, nor does it deny
the common dimension of being pilgrims, walking towards new lands and new
heavens. But dialogue also invites everyone to strengthen that friendship which
neither separates nor brings confusion. We must all be more audacious on this
pathway, so that the men and women of our world, whatever their nationality or
belief, may recognize themselves as children of one God, brothers and sisters.
Today you are in Lisbon, on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, and your eyes are
led to look beyond and see the world's nations and cultures. Lisbon is the
first step of your common path in this new century. Therefore I thank Your
Lordship, Patriarch JosÚ da Cruz Policarpo, and all Your Church for the
hospitality You have shown to this pilgrimage. With You, I greet all the
Brother Bishops and the beloved Portuguese people, which I had the opportunity
to meet during my recent pilgrimage to Fatima.
Many are the problems which gather on the world's horizons. But humanity is in
search of a new balance of peace. As I wrote on the occasion of the Meeting
"Peoples and Religions" in Milan in 1993: "It is therefore
necessary and urgent to rediscover the taste and the willingness to walk
together, in order to build a world based on solidarity, overcoming particular
group, ethnic and national interests.
What an important task religions can accomplish! Poor as they may be in human
means, they are richly endowed with that universal aspiration which is rooted
in a sincere relationship with God" (Insegnamenti, vol. XVI/2, 1993,778)
I entrust to You, Cardinal Edward I Cassidy, my Message for the participants to
the meeting of Lisbon, to which I send once again my cordial greeting. I invoke
on all present the blessing of God Almighty.
With God's help may the men and women of every nation upon the earth continue,
with renewed determination, on the way of peace and mutual understanding.
From the Vatican, 21st September 2000