United in Conviction, Committed to Change

World-day-of-prayer-for-peace assisi 2011

Ss. Andrew Kim Taegōn, Paul Chõng Hasang & Companions, Martyrs

World Day of Prayer for Peace

Proverbs 21:1-6, 10-13; Luke 8:19-31

As he prepared earlier today to head to Assisi for the 30th World Day of Prayer for Peace, Pope Francis said:  “We pray to the Lord, so that he gives us a heart of peace, beyond religious differences, because we are all children of God.  It is necessary to pray, even to cry for peace, with all the faithful united in the conviction that God is a God of peace.”  It was that same desire for peace, belief that all people are God’s children and trust that only God can bring us what Jesus called the peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27) that motivated St. John Paul II to call together the first such gathering of leaders of the world’s religions in 1986. 

Today over 500 men and women leaders representing various religious traditions will join Pope Francis in his namesake’s birthplace.  Their gathering will be hosted, as it has from the beginning, by the Community of Sant’Egidio. 

Skeptics and others who look upon this gathering may be tempted to cry out:  “It’s not working!”  As we look around the world, it’s hard not to come to that conclusion. 

An estimated 65 million people are refugees, many fleeing civil and other wars.  Others have joined the ranks of the Korean martyrs we celebrate today, suffering cruel tortures and barbaric deaths because of their Christian faith.  To prop up a corrupt and brutal regime the Syrian government drops barrel bombs, some filled with poison gas, on its own people; and in the same country the so-called Islamic State terrorizes and tortures people to further its twisted ideology.  Our own country has had to contend with violence and death in many forms, from gunfire in the streets of Chicago to the recent stabbing in a St. Cloud, Minnesota mall and the bombing in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. 

Beyond the sheer scope of all of this inhumanity and bloodshed is the sobering and shameful realization that so much of it is done in the name of God.  History proves that few have been immune to the temptation to coopt religious faith with political, cultural or social ideology.  In our own country, Christianity was corrupted and coopted to justify the genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of others for centuries.  The Pope’s gathering in Assisi with other religious leaders to pray for peace is a way for all people of good faith to cry out that violence and especially killing in the name of God are nothing less than blasphemy. 

Some have criticized Pope Francis (just as they criticized his predecessor, John Paul II) for promoting a form of religious relativism or backdoor syncretism in hosting such an event.  They miss the point.  The purpose of the gathering is neither to highlight nor ignore the differences between people of different faiths or no faith.  Its focus is on what unites us:  a common desire for human beings to live and thrive.  Surely it would not be foreign to the one who came that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

The prayers for peace that rise from Assisi and from all of us who join them in spirit will not change the world today.  But they can change us.  The more we allow God’s mercy, grace and peace to become part of us and the more we accept Jesus’ call to truly “hear the word of God and act on it,” the more we will realize that a different world is possible and the deeper our courage and commitment will be to create that world…and accept the costs.—JC