Monday, May 01, 2006

"Religions and Cultures: The Courage of Dialogue" I hope that you have already heard about the Community of Sant'Egidio's recent event, International Prayer for Peace: "Religions and Cultures: the Courage of Dialogue," held at Georgetown University this past April 26 and 27, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Prayer for Peace held in Assisi. Busted Halo has coverage of the Community ("Sant'Egidio is a wonderful invitation to take the gospel seriously and an invitation not to be alone, to live in social justice") and the event here and here, respectively. The Community has provided transcripts of some of the speeches here. Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Community (there is a John Allen interview with him here), said: The spirit of Assisi is not giving up our identity. I speak as a Christian: it is because of my faith that I love the others who do not share it, it is because of my faith that I dialogue with them, that I want to live in peace with them. The spirit of Assisi is not denying differences. It would not be respectful for millions of believers. Differences exist. We believe in a different way. We pray in a different way. But differences cannot be the reason to hate one another. God does not want hatred. He cannot want war and violence. For John Paul II – he wrote this some years ago – “ praying one next to the other, does not erase differences, it shows the profound link that makes of us all humble men and women who are in search of that peace that only God can give”. Prayer is at the root of peace. The Pope also added that “religions, today much more than in the past, must understand their historical responsibility in working for the unity of the human family”. Many believers understood it. And this is no small victory. How many people have been rescued from ignorance or from fanatical forces or from hatred for the other! How many have become friends of peace? Living together is not easy in today’s world. This is the great problem. This is shown by the striking series of ethnic or national conflicts, some of them even with a religious background. We are in a time in which too many are able to make war having at their disposal fearful armaments. Armed struggle has become popular once again. Terrorism, the ancient plague, today uses powerful weapons and instruments of communication, so much so that it sometimes seems moved by an invisible hand. But terrorism mortally debases the cause which it wishes to defend. Striking the innocent and children? Even the sons and daughters of your enemies are not enemies but they are only children. And Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni, Italy said (I've divided the excerpt into two paragraphs for readability): ... The strength of believers is not arrogance, rather it is sanctity and wisdom, the inner strength of people who are capable of indicating the way to good, in spite of more or less difficult events. Indeed, there is an inner strength of religions, when they are lived out, which is capable of showing the way to good: faith calls to work “with” and not “against” others. Of course, in this respect, the creation of some kind of democracy of religions, or any kind of agreement among them reducing them to a common religious denominator, is to be ruled out. Dialogue does not imply losing or diluting one’s identity, nor giving up the ongoing search for salvation for oneself and others, which is common to all. The many encounters of these years suggest a common path for this millennium. There are difficulties, of course, but at the same time we share a fundamental belief: the walls that separate religions one from the other are not as high as the sky. The sky is above all walls: its name is Love, it goes beyond faith (all faiths) or rather contains them all. This “sign of the times”, the encounter between believers of different faiths, must be pursued with perseverance and resoluteness, for it to bear fruits good for everyone. It is a question of setting free the energies present in different religious traditions, so that they do not remain fruitless in the narrowness of single religious beliefs. These encounters are not a discomfort to be endured, but an opportunity to grasp, in order to enrich believers of all religions. That is why, today, here in Washington, faced with the huge challenges that rise from our planet, this encounter not only shows that all this is possible, but also that it is a path of hope for everyone.

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