Document in Preparation for Day of Prayer in Assisi

What Peace Entails

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2002 ( Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, wrote this document in preparation for the interreligious Day of Prayer for Peace, planned for Assisi, Italy, on Jan. 24.

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Peace in the World,
Dialogue among Christians and with other Religions

Peace, shalom, is at the centre of the message of the Old and the New Testament. In the Bible, peace, shalom, is not simply a normal courteous greeting; it is the escatological promise that comes from God and is the hope of blessing for mankind. Jesus Christ himself is our peace (cf. Eph 2,14). Blessed by God in Jesus Christ, Christians must be a blessing for one another and a blessing for all the nations. «Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God» (Mt 5,9). The Church is called to be the sign, instrument and witness of peace, peace with God and among men (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 11).

Peace, justice and forgiveness

Peace between men, that tranquillity of order taught by St Augustine, to which Pope John Paul II referred in his Message for the World Day of Peace (cf. n. 3) is not merely the silence of guns and the absence of war. It is the fruit of the order built into human society by its divine Founder (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 78), and implies a constant effort to establish justice in the world. As Sacred Scripture tells us, true peace is the «work of justice» (Is 32,17; cf. Jas 3,18).

By justice we mean respect for the dignity of every person, his fundamental human rights and freedom. It means not discriminating on the basis of faith, race, cultural background or gender. By justice we mean guaranteeing the right of every human being to life, land, food, water, and to an education that gives them a fuller awareness of these rights and the capacity of self-determination in their lives. Such a personal good presumes the common good, social justice above all for the poor, social balance and stability of the social and political order.

In the face of a world scarred by sin, egoism and envy; in a world which all too often violently denies «justice», and, in the vicious cycle of conflicts overturns the tranquillity of order, the premise and substance of peace, it is not possible to establish peace without the «merciful Providence of God, who knows how to touch even the most hardened of hearts and bring good fruits even from what seems utterly barren soil» (Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2002, n. 1). Peace is the gift of forgiveness, of redemption and of the new creation; as are love, joy, self-control, kindness, gentleness, it is a fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal 5,22). The kingdom of God is justice, peace, and joy in the Spirit (cf. Rom 14,17).

This hope must profoundly inspire our prayer. Peace must be continually implored, so that it may be granted and safeguarded. The arm of prayer also strengthens our mission to reverse situations of injustice, and work together to build a more just world. Led by the meekness of the One who preached justice for the poor of the Kingdom, Christians believe that «the ability to forgive lies at the very basis of the idea of a future society marked by justice and solidarity» (Message, n. 9).

Christians realize that the ethnic, racial and religious hatred, the spiral of violence that strikes victims and executioners without distinction, can have an antidote: forgiveness. It is only forgiveness that puts us above the accusations; which permits us not to lay blame on a whole nation on account of a few persons; not to allow to fall on the sons the sins of their fathers. Forgiveness, which depends on each one of us, can reestablish justice and lead us out of a situation of war to one of peace.

Reconciliation and peace between Christians

Precisely reflecting on the bond between peace and forgiveness we can locate the importance of ecumenical dialogue and collaboration between Christians. «Before the world, united action in society on the part of Christians has the clear value of a joint witness to the name of the Lord» (Ut unum sint, n. 75). And not only this. Oppressed by their history of disputes and conflicts, accused of having sometimes used force in preaching and of imposing the Gospel of Christ with arms, especially in this century, Christians have begun the demanding and slow process of reciprocal forgiveness. There cannot be ecumenism without conversion and pardon (cf. ibid. n. 15). The shame and interior remorse over the scandal of division, the repentance that the Spirit fosters, are the basis of the ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, n. 1).

Today Christians have crossed the threshold of the third millennium, and find themselves faced with a demanding, difficult and essential choice. The ecumenical task, that is the promotion of unity between Christians is one of the great challenges and urgent tasks at the beginning of the new millennium (cf. Novo Millennio ineunte, n. 12,48). The faithful are called to «promote a spirituality of communion» (ibid., n. 43), and to be the «light of the world», the «city set on a mountain» (Mt 5,14).

They preach pardon, this particular form of love (cf. Message, n. 2) and laboriously apply it to themselves, and their Churches of the East and of the West. Dialogue, encounter, purification of the memory are for the Church an act of courage and a serious necessity. They realize that «the consistency and honesty of intentions and of statements of principles are verified by their application to real life» (Ut unum sint, n. 74). In the present reality, this means that by their exemplary behaviour that they will offer to the world a witness of pardon, harmony and dialogue, that must be even deeper when the differences seem insuperable.

Despite the lasting divisions, and thanks to their experience of dialogue, the Churches have so far been able to show that the process of the purification of the memory of their past little by little generates a movement that makes «the «New Law´ of the spirit of charity prevail…. The «universal brotherhood´ of Christians has become a firm ecumenical conviction» (ibid., n. 42). They already live in a communion that is real and profound even if it is not yet perfect (cf. ibid., nn. 11-14). In their witness and service to peace, even now they can and must collaborate closely with one another.

Ecumenical dialogue and interreligious dialogue

The attitude of the Churches and their readiness to forgive that they apply in their reciprocal relations, must encourage them to start a dialogue with the other religions and cultures, so that the ecumenical morality they seek in their action may be reflected in their relationships and dialogues with the other religions, for a collaboration that will effectively reaffirm the values of life and human culture.

The ecumenical dialogue and the interreligious dialogue are connected and overlap, but are not identical with each other another. There is a specific, qualitative difference between them and, therefore, they should not be confused. Ecumenical dialogues are not only based on the tolerance and respect due for every human and religious conviction; nor are they founded solely on liberal philanthropy or mere polite courtesy; on the contrary, ecumenical dialogue is rooted in the common faith in Jesus Christ and the reciprocal recognition of baptism, which means that all the baptized become members of the one Body of Christ (cf. Gal 3,28); I Cor 12,13; Ut unum sint, n. 42) and can pray the»Our Father» together, as Jesus taught us. In other religions the Church recognizes a ray of that truth «that enlightens every man» (Jn 1,9), but is revealed in its fullness only in Jesus Christ; only he is «the Way, the Truth and the Life» (Jn 14,6; cf. Nostra aetate, n. 2). It is therefore ambiguous to refer to interreligious dialogue in terms of macro-ecumenism or of a new and vaster phase of ecumenism.

Christians and th
e followers of other religions can pray, but cannot pray together. Every form of syncretism is to be excluded. Likewise, they share the sense of and respect for God or the Divine, and the desire for God or the Divine; respect for life, the desire for peace with God or with the Divine, among human beings and in the cosmos; they share many moral values. They can and must collaborate to safeguard and promote together social justice, moral values, peace and freedom, for the benefit of all mankind. This applies in particular for the monotheistic religions who see Abraham as their father in faith.

The invitation to the Day of Prayer for Peace in the World is a way of reaffirming all of this. The Catholic Church considers participation in it a useful opportunity for witnessing together that «Christians feel ever more challenged by the issue of peace» (Ut unum sint, n. 76). Applying the criteria of the their own quest for unity, Christians respect the other religions. They know that the «New Law» of the spirit of charity encourages acceptance and does not exclude legitimate diversity. They know that they have in common with the other religions the weapon of prayer to implore peace.

In the face of the terrible evil of the absence of peace, in the face of the never-ending series of painful losses caused by war, they know that have only one alternative: to bear witness to reciprocal pardon and to the tranquillity of order between them. Thus we ask all to set out with us on the same path of hope that leads to justice, reconciliation and peace.

Cardinal Walter Kasper,

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