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(ROME, 16-18 JANUARY 2003)


The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue organised in Rome, 16-18 January, an interreligious colloquium in which nearly forty peoples, from fifteen different countries and representing eight different religious traditions, took part. The first two days were spent examining what the various scriptures have to say about peace. Time was also taken for visits, to the Rome synagogue on the Thursday afternoon and to the mosque at the time of the Friday prayer. An opportunity was given for a visit to the excavations under St Peter’s Basilica at the end of the colloquium. The final morning was open to an invited public, from the Roman Curia, the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, and the press. H.E. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington D.C., spoke about the contribution of religions to peace from an American point of view. The second speaker, H.E. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, had met with difficulties at Tel Aviv airport and was not able to be present. His contribution, reflecting the grave situation in the Holy Land, was read by Monsignor Khaled Akasheh, a priest of the Latin Patriarchate and a staff member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. After a musical interlude, by Maestro Elvin, an Albanian violinist, two testimonies were given. Dr Shin’ichi Noguchi spoke about the work of the Niwano Peace Foundation, an initiative of a Japanese Buddhist community, and Canon Andrew White related the origins and activities of the Centre for Reconciliation set up by the Anglican cathedral in Coventry, U.K. At the end of the morning Rabbi Jack Bemporad read out, on behalf of the participants in the interreligious colloquium, the following statement:

As conflicts divide neighbours and nations and the threat of war hangs over us like a shadow, too many people see and employ religion as a force of divisiveness and violence, rather than a force for unity and peace. Between 16-18 January 2003 in Rome, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue organized a symposium on "Spiritual Resources of the Religions for Peace." In this symposium, 38 participants from 15 countries dedicated themselves to exploring the rich resources of religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism) for peace. This encounter was a follow-up to the Interreligious Assembly held in the Vatican on 25-28 October 1999, the Day of Prayer for Peace which took place in Assisi, 24 January 2002, and the Forum for Peace which preceded it.

The talk of war has intensified in recent months, but there has not been much increase in the talk of peace. Dedicated efforts are needed to examine how, in a world that is increasingly interconnected, we can find new ways to respect our religious differences while forging peaceful bonds based on our common humanity.

Our scriptures and traditions are the most important spiritual resources which each of us possesses. We hold that the scriptures of each religion teach the path to peace, but we acknowledge that our various sacred writings have often been and continue to be used to justify violence, war, and exclusion of others. Our various communities cannot ignore such passages which have often been misinterpreted or manipulated for unworthy goals such as power, wealth, or revenge, but we must all recognize the need for new, contextual studies and a deeper understanding of our various scriptures that clearly enunciate the message and value of peace for all humanity.

Believers need to examine those scriptural passages that depict people of other religions in ways that conflict with their own self-understanding. This requires a renewed effort to educate properly our own adherents to the values and beliefs of others. Such interreligious education, that takes seriously the self-understanding of other religious traditions, is essential for communicating the message of peace to new generations. The challenge is to remain true to our own religion without disparaging or distorting that of others.

Spiritual resources for peace include not only our scriptural foundations, but also the example of our fellow believers who, down through history, have taught peace and acted as peacemakers. These include saints, poets and martyrs who have suffered and have often given their lives in non violent commitment to truth, justice and fellowship, which have been the foundations of human progress.

They include countless persons of every religion whose names are not recorded by history, but who have valiantly acted to prevent conflict and war, who have assisted victims of violence without regard to religion or nation, and who have worked for justice and reconciliation as the basis for establishing peace. By their actions, they have borne concrete witness to the mission of each religious community to be agents of peace amidst the harsh realities of injustice, aggression, terrorism and war.

The spiritual resources for peace also include interreligious encounters which have helped many to come together to learn about each other’s religious beliefs and shared values, and to discover the possibility of living and working together to build societies of justice and peace. Such encounters seek to instil a spirit of mutual respect and genuine understanding of one another and have helped us to see our religions as a force for good. Mutual respect and honouring differences are not simply lofty goals, but achievable reality.

Opting for peace does not mean a passive acquiescence in evil or a compromising of principle. It demands an active struggle against hatred, oppression and disunity, but not by using methods of violence. Building peace requires creative and courageous action. A commitment to peace is a labour of patience and perseverance. It involves as well a readiness to examine self-critically the relationship of our traditions to those social, economic and political structures which are frequently agents of violence and injustice.

We recognize that in the interrelated context of our contemporary lives, interreligious cooperation is no longer an option but a necessity. One could say that to be religious today is to be interreligious. Religion will prosper in this century only to the extent that we can maintain a sense of community among people of different religious beliefs who work together as a human family to achieve a world of peace.