VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 8, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II’s message to Cardinal Walter Kasper on the occasion of the Men and Religions meeting held Sunday through Tuesday in Milan, Italy. The meeting was organized by the Archdiocese of Milan and the Rome-based lay Community of Sant’Egidio.
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To the Reverend Brother Cardinal Walter Kasper
President of the Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity
1. I am particularly glad, dear Brother, to give you the responsibility to convey my greetings and my sincere appreciation to all the Representatives of Churches, Ecclesial Communities and major world Religions who have gathered in Milan for this XVIII Meeting entitled “Religions and Cultures: the Courage to Forge a New Spiritual Humanism.” For me it is a joy and a consolation to see that the pilgrimage of peace I started in Assisi in October 1986 did not stop. On the contrary, it continues to grow in terms of participants and fruits.
Furthermore, I am pleased to convey my greetings to the beloved Ambrosian Church. With its Archbishop, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, it generously welcomed this providential meeting once again. I also thank St. Egidio Community for having grasped the importance of what I called “the spirit of Assisi,” and having constantly upheld it with audaciousness and perseverance since 1986, nourishing the commitment to a very necessary pathway in today’s world, marked by deep misunderstandings and relentless conflicts.
2. The spirit of dialogue and understanding has often lead to endeavors of reconciliation. Unfortunately, new conflicts have broken out, and an attitude which regards conflicts of religions and civilizations as an almost inevitable heritage of history has become widely accepted.
They truly are not! Peace is possible always! We must always work together to eradicate the seeds of bitterness and misunderstanding embedded in culture and life, we must put all our efforts into eradicating humankind’s determination to prevail over the other, we need to work together to erase the arrogance of asserting one’s own interests disdaining the identity of the other. These feelings are the harbingers of a world of violence and war. But conflict is never unavoidable!
And religions have a specific task in reminding every man and every woman of this awareness, a gift of God and, at the same time, the fruit of centuries of historical experience. This is what I called “the spirit of Assisi.” Our world needs this spirit. It needs convictions and behaviors that secure a solid peace to flow from this spirit, to reinforce international institutions and promote reconciliation. The “spirit of Assisi” urges religions to give their contribution to the new humanism today’s world needs so badly.
3. The world needs peace. Every day we hear news of violence, terrorist attacks, military operations. Is the world truly abandoning all hope of attaining peace? At times it seems the world is getting used to violence and the shedding of innocent blood. As we face these troublesome events, I bow my head over the Scriptures and there I find the comforting words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
As Christians who believe in the one who is “our peace” (Ephesians 2:14), his words light up our hope. However, I wish to address and request everybody to withstand the logic of violence, revenge and hatred, and persevere in dialogue. We need to break the deadly chain that imprisons the world and sheds its blood. In this sense, there is so much religious believers can do. The image of peace that rises from the Meeting in Milan encourages many people to embark upon a commitment to peace.
4. In a few days time we shall commemorate that terrible September 11th, 2001, when death reached the very heart of the United States. Three years have passed since then and terrorism sadly seems to be increasing its threats of destruction. The fight against the death-makers doubtless requires firmness and resoluteness. At the same time, however, it is necessary to make every possible effort to eradicate the misery, despair, emptiness of heart and whatever favors this drift towards terror.
We must not let ourselves be overwhelmed by fear, which leads men and women to focus only on themselves and strengthens the selfishness entrenched in the hearts of individuals and groups. We need the courage to globalize solidarity and peace. I am thinking of Africa, first of all, “the continent that seems to incarnate the existing unbalance between the North and the South of the Planet” (Message for the XVI Meeting “Men and Religions”: Palermo, August 29th, 2002) and at the heart of my concerns are the Iraqi people. Every day, I invoke for them peace from God, that peace that humankind is not capable of giving.
The Meeting in Milan shows it is crucial for humanity to resolutely make a true commitment to peace. Peace never requires violence, it always calls for dialogue. Especially those who come from Countries whose soil is stained with blood know well that violence constantly generates violence. War throws open the doors to the abyss of evil. War makes anything possible, even what is totally irrational.
That is why war should always be considered a defeat: the defeat of reason and of humanity. May a new spiritual and cultural thrust soon lead humankind to banish war. War never again! I was convinced of this in October 1986 in Assisi, when I asked people belonging to all religions to gather side by side to invoke God for peace. I am even more convinced of it today: as the body grows weak, I feel the power of prayer grow.
5. The title St. Egidio Community has chosen for this year’s Meeting is, therefore, very significant: “Religions and Cultures: The Courage to Forge a New Spiritual Humanism.” Meeting generates in itself a new humanism, a new way of looking at one another, of understanding each another, of envisioning the world and of working for peace. At the Meeting there are people capable of staying next to one another, who discover how friendship enables them to perceive the extreme dignity of every man and every woman and the richness that is often rooted in diversity.
Dialogue releases the courage for a new spiritual humanism, because it requires to trust in men and women. It never sets person against person. Its purpose is to overcome distance and vulgarity, so we may become aware that we are all creatures of one God, and brothers and sisters all belonging to humankind.
Cherishing these convictions in my heart, I assure you of my participation in spirit in the meeting and invoke upon each of you the heavenly blessings of Almighty God.
Castel Gandolfo, September 3rd, 2004
Joannes Paulus II
[Translation of Italian original published on the Web site of the Community of Sant’Egidio]