“The subtle force of prayer against the overbearing power of weapons.” With this “spirit” Assisi is preparing to welcome participants in the international meeting “Thirst for Peace: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue”, September 18-20, marking 30 years since the historical Day of Prayer for Peace promoted by John Paul II on October 27 1986. The meeting will start on Sunday to the presence of the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, and it will be ongoing until Tuesday, when Pope Francis will deliver the closing address. To date, as many as 511 leaders of world religions have accepted the invitation, along with 12 thousand pilgrims who will be travelling to the city of the Poor Man of Assisi to attend the meeting and the prayer for peace. For three days Assisi will be the capital of the Spirit and home to Anglican and Catholic Bishops, Rabbis and Buddhists, Imams and Muftis. Among the religious dignitaries figure Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Pastor Olav Tveit representing the World Council of Churches, and Syro-Orthodox Patriarch Efrem II arriving from the martyred Syrian land. Various Italian ministers will take the floor: Ministers Andrea Orlando will address the situation in prisons, Minister Stefania Giannini education and peace, and Gianluca Galletti environmental protection. The event is jointly promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Sacred Convent.
Marco Impagliazzo, what are the expectations for this meeting, marking 30 years since the historical intuition of John Paul II?
The initiative “Thirst for Peace”, promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio, together with the Franciscan Families and the Diocese of Assisi, intends to bring together world religions to pray and talk about peace. There is great need for this today, at a time of widespread violence, ongoing armed conflicts, and, notably, in an era of terrorism. We wish to return from Assisi with greater and stronger joint determination to fight all forms of violence with culture, and build a new society where diversities coexist. The ideology of terrorism aims to end relationships and destroy societies that want to live in peace. We want to return from Assisi giving a voice to the poor and the victims of the war. We are there to give voice to all those who don’t have one.
The Sant’Egidio Community has been holding the meeting for dialogue and prayer every year. To what extent have these meetings changed relationships between religious communities? Could it be said that without these meetings there would have been more and stronger conflicts, waged in the name of religion?
The world has changed a lot over the past 30 years, and it changed for the better. In 1986, when the path of Assisi was first undertaken, the Cold War prevailed and the world was divided in two. The Berlin Wall kept millions of European citizens far away from democracy and freedom. From this perspective the situation has greatly improved, so it can be said that this path has been of great value. And its contribution was equally felt in other scenarios. For example in Africa – from Mozambique to the Ivory Coast, from Central Africa to Guinea Conakry passing by Latin America with Colombia and Guatemala, where daily efforts for peace, carried out also on religious grounds, have been extremely successful.
For 30 years the Community of Sant’Egidio has brought the spirit of Assisi across many European cities. But world conflicts have increased, and many people today are questioning the value of dialogue. What is your answer?
I don’t agree. The world has changed and it changed for the better; and many populations testify to this improvement. Naturally today there are new challenges ahead of us. So rather than speaking of a worsening of the situation at global level it should be said that the today the world is facing new challenges. We have entered an era of globalization. The major challenge we are facing today is that while globalization furthers coexistence, terrorism aims at dividing us. We will gather in Assisi to say that we seek unity against those who want to divide us.
The presence of Pope Francis is the “new” element of the 2016 meeting. What is the contribution to interreligious dialogue and thus to peace?
Having a Pope named Francis within the spirit of Assisi after 30 years would have been unimaginable a few years ago. Francis is at home in Assisi. Interreligious dialogue is one of the strengths of his Pontificate and, previously, of his episcopate in Buenos Aires. The Pope will feel at home in Assisi and will bestow upon us an additional thrust that today we are all in need of.