It’s certainly unusual to see Muslims seated on the benches of a Christian church. It’s all the more unexpected to know that they are there not as tourists, nor as architecture or Western art scholars. In fact, they gathered there to pray. For the same reason for which Christians gather in that same place every Sunday:
The silent, mysterious, huge, powerful force of prayer, a prayer recited together, with different voices, according to different traditions and rites but with the same purpose: to call for peace. After the murder of Father Jacques, or, more truthfully, after his martyrdom past Tuesday, many cried before this atrocity: they were voices of indignation, anger, condemnation and fear; voices that demand revenge, repression, war. As on the aftermath of similar tragic cases occurred in the recent past, where men and women, regardless of their religious affiliation, belief or ethnicity, have been the victims of terrorist folly, or of specific annihilation plans, even this time a plethora of voices were heard. Some of them resolutely disagreed with those who determinedly follow the way of dialogue and reception, whether advocated by a Pope or a bishop, an Imam or a rabbi, the leader of a world religion or the man on the street, believers and non-believers alike.
The underlying claim was: “It was as I said! Dialogue is perfectly useless!”But on Sunday July 31st in many Christian churches, in Italy, and in other Countries, the obstinate voices of those who reaffirm the way of dialogue as the only way leading to peace – the only one, not one amidst many others! – hundreds of hands were joined in prayer. A silent voice, albeit a deafening voice: a voice that united men and women with different religious, cultural, and national backgrounds who share the same belief. It’s the belief of all those who know that
Praying together can change our life. And it does indeed!
A prayer from the heart creates a bond between people, and most of all it connects them with the divine Mystery, however one may call it. Prayer is a sublime form of dialogue; a dialogue promoted by the creatures and by their Creator. Moreover, those who expect to see immediate results will be disappointed, as a large part of humanity – which in many ways is devoted to dialogue, understanding, patience, to relations based on mutual knowledge, openness and wait – is well aware of. In the belief that blind violence must be countered in every way but not with equally blind acts of violence. This is not the way. It has never been. It’s the lesson learnt from history, a history that has often been tragic; yet that history will unquestionably never back out from a path of coexistence between peoples and religions.
That’s why this battle will be won only with the weapons of civilization, of dialogue, of encounter. Other wars are started and lost, including the insidious war of those who intend to silence all those who unyieldingly pursue the path of peace, a peace achieved not with force but with reconciliation.Muslims and Christians have prayed together for this purpose. But we are convinced that also men and women of other faiths have done the same, and that they do so continuously, with a determination that is the weapon of the strong, namely, the belief that praying together is life-changing. It isn’t motivated by naïveness nor by excessive optimism. It’s pure faith, authentic, defenceless faith, yet extremely potent and beneficial.
Father Jacques was murdered while celebrating the Eucharist. Hundreds of times, during his priestly life, he said: “This is my body given for you; this is in remembrance that my blood was shed for you.” On Tuesday July 26 Christ’s words became the last gesture in the life of that elderly priest. And just as every life given to others in faith and charity is not given in vain, also the life of Father Jacques, as that of many others, Christians and non-Christians alike, is already delivering its fruits. Past Sunday, in many Christian churches, we saw one beautiful, moving fruit, rich with positive repercussions.
(*) Director of the Italian Bishops’ Conference national Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue