One by one, world religious leaders, rabbis, shepherds of Christian Churches, imams, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Hindi, Jains and Buddhists from world Countries, some from areas afflicted by violence and war, stepped down from the large light-blue podium set up in Osnabrück’s Marktplaats and lit a candle for peace. A great invocation to end conflicts and acts of deadly violence, especially those committed in the name of God. The spirit of Assisi is thriving. This year it was brought to Münster and Osnabrück, in the heart of Westphalia, Germany. For three days, over 300 leaders of Christian Churches and world religions, along with representatives of the world of culture, reflected on the major themes and challenges faced by contemporary societies at global level. War, terrorism, poverty, violated childhood. They convened to say that although there is no easy answer to humanity’s quest for peace and justice, they are not resigned to evil, to the deep cries of suffering heard in too many parts of the world.
“We want to open new paths of peace, through the weak strength of dialogue”, said Andrea Riccardi, founder of Sant’Egidio.
“In Europe, concentrated on itself and distracted from the world, in the heart of our religious worlds, wherever people fight each other, wherever violence rules, wherever hatred appears”, he said. “Religions, in their depth, are paths of peace. With the collaboration of all women and men of good will, more and more, and wherever they are needed, may they open new paths of peace.”
The powerful appeal for peace of Monsignor Butros Marayati, Armenian-Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, resonated on the Marktplaats. “War never again!”, he cried out. “It is a cry that rises from my city, Aleppo, and from all the cities wounded by violence and conflicts. It is the cry of children, women, refugees, who wait for peace.” “Because war is always a useless slaughter”: “War is defeated through dialogue, it is defeated through forgiveness.”
Osnabrück Square is enveloped in silence. As sombre as the suffering for the victims of all forms of violence; as solemn as the prayer to the one and only God. “Prayer forces the limit of the impossible open: it addresses the One who can everything. Prayer is never hopeless. Rather it echoes the pain, sometimes the cry of those who are in the clutches in war.” In this climate religious leaders proclaimed their appeal for peace.
“Encounter and dialogue disarm the violent and stop them, for we know that war is never holy, and whoever kills in God’s name has no place among religions, nor among humankind.”
These intense days were marked by encounter and tokens of friendship. The world needs this profound yearning of the Spirit that shows that peace is possible and that the power of goodness is stronger than evil. “Entire peoples call for them, impoverished and enslaved by endless war. The victims of violence and merciless terrorism beg for them, and the refugees and the displaced, who have had to abandon their land due to conflicts and environmental disasters, plead for them”, declared the religious leaders. “Today, with God’s help and the support of many people, we solemnly commit ourselves to open new ‘Paths of Peace’ in this world.”
Even children are on the podium, signalling that the Spirit of Assisi, the Spirit of our God of peace continues to thrive, to shape our future, to walk into the heart of the world. This immense caravan of peace will gather again in Bologna.
On October 27 1986 Pope John Paul II saw his great dream come true: to bring together in Assisi the representatives of world religions, to raise an invocation for peace to the one and only God. The world stood in awe. And arms were silenced for a day. In his conclusion Jean Paul II exhorted: “Let us continue to spread the message of peace. Let us continue to live the spirit of Assisi!”.