AACHEN, Germany, SEPT. 8, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is the message John Paul II sent to the 17th International Meeting of Prayer for Peace, with the theme “War and Peace: Faith and Cultures Meet,” being held here through Tuesday.
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To My Honorable Brother, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray,
1. I am very grateful to convey to you, Cardinal, my personal greetings to the esteemed representatives of the Christian Churches and communities and of the great world religions gathered for the 17th International Meeting of Prayer for Peace, with the theme “War and Peace: Faith and Cultures Meet.” I would particularly like to thank the bishop of Aachen, Monsignor Heinrich Mussinghoff, and the faithful of the diocese who cooperated in the realization of this meeting.
In 1986, when I wished to begin a new road in Assisi, of which Aachen is a new stage, the world was still divided in two parties and oppressed by the fear of nuclear war. When I saw how compelling was the need of the poor to be able to dream again of a future of peace and prosperity for everyone, I invited the believers of the different world religions to gather in prayer for peace. I imagined the great vision of the prophet Isaiah: All the peoples will come from different places on earth to gather around God as one, great, multiform family. That is the vision of the Blessed John XXIII, which inspired him to write the encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” of which we commemorate the 40th anniversary this year.
2. In Assisi that dream took a concrete and clear shape, inspiring many desires of peace in our souls. We all were joyful. Unfortunately, that longing was not picked up with the necessary speed and promptness. During these years we have invested very little to defend peace and support the dream of a world free of war. We have preferred to develop particular interests, lavishing huge riches in other areas, especially military expenses.
We all witnessed to the development of egocentric passions within our own borders, ethnic groups and nations. Sometimes even religion was subjected to violence. Within a few days we will recall the tragic attack on the twin towers in New York. Unfortunately, together with the towers, also many hopes of peace seem to have collapsed. Wars and conflicts continue to prosper and poison the life of many people, mostly of the poorest countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. I am thinking of dozens of ongoing wars and the widespread war that terrorism represents.
3. When will these conflicts cease? When will people finally see a reconciled world? We will not facilitate the peace process by allowing, with guilty indifference, injustice and to prosper in our planet. Poor countries often became places of desperation, forgers of violence. We do not want to allow war to dominate the life of the world and of peoples. We do not want to accept poverty as the constant companion of all nations’ existence. So we ask: What shall we do? And, moreover, what can believers do? How can peace be affirmed in this time full of wars? I believe, therefore, that these “International Meetings of Prayer for Peace,” organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, are already a concrete answer to these questions. They have taken place for 17 years, and their fruits of peace are evident. Every year people from different faiths meet, get to know one another, dissolve tensions, learn to live together, and share a common responsibility toward peace.
4. Meeting in Aachen at the beginning of this new millennium, is, once again, meaningful. This city, placed in the heart of the European continent, clearly speaks of Europe’s ancient tradition: speaks of its ancient roots, starting from the Christian ones that harmonized and consolidated the others too. Christian roots are not a memory of religious exclusiveness but a foundation of freedom, because they make Europe a melting pot of different cultures and experiences. It’s from these ancient roots that European peoples got the drive that led them to touch the borders of the earth and to reach the depth of man, of his inviolable dignity, of the basic equality of everyone, of the universal right to justice and peace.
At present, Europe, while widening its process of union, is called to rediscover this energy, aware of its deepest roots. It is not healthy to forget them. To just presuppose them, is not enough to enlighten souls. To silence them, withers hearts. Europe will be stronger for the present and the future of the world to the degree that it quenches its thirst at the sources of its religious and cultural traditions. The religious and human wisdom Europe accumulated during the centuries, despite all the tensions and the contradictions that accompanied it, is a patrimony that once again may be spent for the growth of the whole of humanity. I am convinced that Europe, steadily anchored to its roots, will accelerate the process of internal unification and will offer its essential contribution to progress and peace among all the peoples of world.
5. In a divided world that leads increasingly toward separations and particularisms, there is urgent need of unity. People of different religions are called to discover ways of meeting and dialoguing. Unity is not uniformity. We cannot build peace in mutual ignorance but through dialogue and meeting. This is the secret of the Aachen meeting.
6. Every one coming here can say that, on this road, peace among the people is not a remote utopia.
7. “The name of the one God must become increasingly what it is: a name of peace and a summons to peace” (“Novo Millennio Ineunte,” No. 55).
That is why we must intensify our meeting and lay solid and shared foundations of peace. These foundations disarm the violent, call them back to reason and respect, and cover the world with peaceful feelings. With you, dearest brothers and sisters, “let us continue with determination the dialogue” (“Ecclesia in Europa”). May this third millennium be the time of unity in the one God. The scandal of division is no longer tolerable: It is a repeated no to God and to peace.
Together with you, illustrious representatives of the great world religions, we would like to intensify a dialogue of peace, raising our gaze toward the Father of peoples, recognizing that all differences do not lead us to confrontation but to respect, to sincere collaboration, and to the building of peace. With you men and women of secular tradition we feel we have to continue in dialogue and love as the only way to respect the rights of everyone and face the challenges of the new millennium.
The world needs much peace. As believers, the way that we know to reach out in prayer to the One who can give us peace. The way we all can follow is the way of dialogue in love. Then, with the weapons of prayer and dialogue, let us walk on the path of the future.
From Castel Gandolfo, 5 September 2003
[Adapted text of translation issued by the Community of Sant’Egidio]