PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
MASS FOR THE XXV ANNIVERSARY
HOMILY OF H.E. MSGR. MICHAEL FITZGERALD
Cathedral of St Stephen, Wien
There is much talk in these days about "roadmaps", and in particular of the "roadmap" for a just and lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet it has become evident how difficult it is to follow this map. It might perhaps be wondered whether the political indications that it gives are sufficient for achieving peace.
John Paul II, during his journey to that same troubled land in the year 2000, speaking to the youth gathered on the hillside by the Lake of Galilee where today's Gospel was first proclaimed, recalled the two mountains of Sinai and the Beatitudes. He said that they "provide the map for our Christian life and present in a synthetic way our responsibilities towards God and towards our neighbour". On another occasion, again addressing the youth, John Paul II likened the eight Beatitudes to signposts on our way. We may find the path that they indicate somewhat arduous, but it is the only way to peace and joy.
We find written on one of these signposts "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness", or thirst for justice, as it is put in some translations. Justice is indeed an essential condition for peace. Injustices are at the root of many of the conflicts with which our world is afflicted.
Yet justice is to be tempered by love, a love which includes the readiness to forgive. So we find written also "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy". Where there is constant retaliation, there can never be true peace. "No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness" was the message of John Paul II for the World Day of Peace in 2002, addressing his words in particular "to those who, for one reason or other, nourish feelings of hatred, a desire for revenge or the will to destroy". For forgiveness opens the way to mutual understanding to respect and trust. It is only in this way that the spiral of violence can be broken.
This is a difficult road, one that many find hard to accept. Those who do take it may well expect to meet with opposition; they may expect to be rejected. It is not for nothing that the Beatitudes declare blessed "those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake".
This title of "peacemaker" is surely one deserved by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. During the twenty-five years of his pontificate he has not ceased to oppose war, to condemn violence in all its forms, to call for negotiated settlements that will humiliate no party to the conflict.
John Paul II has taken the unprecedented step of inviting people to pray with him for peace. This invitation, as you well know, has not been confined to Catholics only. It has been extended to representatives of other Christian Churches and communities and even wider to people of different religious traditions. Many joined the Holy Father on that memorable occasion in October 1986, and many more followed the events of that day by means of television and joined their prayers with those gathered in Assisi.
This invitation to pray in Assisi has been repeated, not once but twice. In 1993 the Holy Father called for prayers for peace in Europe, and particularly in the Balkans. Numerous Muslims came to Assisi for the occasion. In January 2002, as a response to the terrible events of the 11 September 2001, there was the memorable peace train from the Vatican to Assisi, bringing a message of hope. And in Assisi, after a time of prayer, there was the tenfold commitment to peace proclaimed in many languages of the world by representatives of different religious traditions.
John Paul II has shared his conviction that prayer is needed for peace, since it is a key to open hearts. In Assisi, on that first occasion in 1986, he declared:
"Peace, where it exists, is always extremely fragile. It is threatened in so many ways and with such unforeseeable consequences that we must endeavour to provide it with secure foundations. Without in any way denying the need for the many human resources which maintain and strengthen peace, we are here because we are sure that, above and beyond all such measures, we need prayer - intense, humble and trusting prayer - if the world is finally to become a place of true and permanent peace".
And again on 24 January 2002 he said:
"If peace is God's gift and has its source in him, where are we to seek it and how can we build it, if not in a deep and intimate relationship with God? To build the peace of order, justice and freedom requires, therefore, a priority commitment to prayer, which is openness, listening, dialogue and finally union with God, the prime wellspring of true peace".
I am sure that the Holy Father rejoices to know that this commemoration of the 25th anniversary of his election as Bishop of Rome is taking the form of this special celebration for peace.
Yet John Paul II recognizes too that human endeavour is required for peace, and this must be a collaborative effort. There is the need for nations to work in concert, strengthened by international institutions such as those in which you here present today serve in many different capacities. The Pope, moreover, wishes people of all religions to work together for the cause of peace. Addressing representatives of different religious traditions gathered in St Peter's Square in October 1999, he stated: "There are some who claim that religion is part of the problem, blocking humanity's way to true peace and prosperity. As religious people it is our duty to demonstrate that this is not the case. Any use of religion to support violence is an abuse of religion.... The task before us therefore is to promote a culture of dialogue.
Individually and together, we must show how religious belief inspires peace, encourages solidarity, promotes justice and upholds liberty".
For each one of us here present to strive to put these words into practice would perhaps be the best way of marking this 25th anniversary of John Paul II's pontificate. May God give us the necessary strength to accomplish this.