By Devin Watkins
The St. Egidio Community has held a two-day peace meeting in Rome which was attended by numerous faith leaders from across the globe.
The 35th International Meeting for Peace concluded on Thursday evening with a prayer for peace at the Colosseum, which was attended by Pope Francis.
Held under the theme, “Peoples as Brothers, Future Earth”, the event saw the participation of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Hebraism, Buddhism, Tenrikyo, Hinduism, and Sikhism.
Participants from over 40 countries met to discuss how to “start again” in the “spirit of Assisi”, which is one of friendship and dialogue.
The president of the St. Egidio Community, Marco Impagliazzo, called on everyone not to waste the opportunity presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. “May it become a new beginning, and not just a moment of degradation which separates us one from another,” he said in a video message opening the Peace Meeting.
Demilitarize human heart
Pope Francis wrapped up the Prayer for Peace meeting at the Colosseum which was attended by hundreds of people from various faith traditions.
Ahead of a moment of silence for the victims of all wars, the Pope offered the concluding address for the event, asking God to “demilitarize the human heart.”
He opened his address praising the many people who traveled to Rome this week to show that prayer is a “quiet source of strength which brings peace and disarms hate-filled hearts.”
From a place of violence to one of peace
Pope Francis noted how the event—whose theme is “peoples as brothers and sisters”—is taking place against the backdrop of the Colosseum, once a site of fights pitting men against one another in fights to the death for mass entertainment.
The Pope said we too can become “spectators of violence and war, of brothers killing brothers,” as if it were a game we watch from afar.
He recalled that the lives of people and young children are not playthings.
“We must not be indifferent onlookers,” he said. “On the contrary, we need to empathize with those who share our humanity, its aspirations, its struggles and its frailties.”
Everything that happens to our brothers and sisters, he added, affects us, though he added that recognizing this truth takes great courage.
War a failure of politics and humanity
The Pope said war “plays games with human lives” and is a failure of “politics and humanity.”
He then reiterated an appeal launched in the Document on Human Fraternity signed in 2019 with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, who was present at Thursday’s event.
He said the urgent task of religions is “in this delicate historical situation: to demilitarize the human heart.”
“As believers it is our responsibility to help eradicate hatred from human hearts and to condemn every form of violence,” he said. “Let us unambiguously urge that arms be set aside and military spending reduced, in order to provide for humanitarian needs, and that instruments of death be turned into instruments of life.”
Peace requires purity of heart
Pope Francis then put particular emphasis on the word “peace”, without which people cannot remain brothers and sisters.
Peace, he added, is the path forward for people of all religions.
“If there are those who work to foment division and conflict, we ourselves believe in the importance of journeying together for peace: with one another, and never again against one another,” he said.
Peace, continued the Pope, requires us to purify our hearts, since it is not only an agreement or a value, but above all an “attitude of the heart.”
And he urged the faithful of all religions to overcome the temptation to fundamentalism and to view one another as enemies.
Sins against Creation and God
The Pope went on to reflect on the other portion of the event’s theme: “Future Earth”.
He said peace among peoples also involves a “commitment to care for creation and our common home.”
The Pope praised Ecumencial Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, also present, for his reminder that “a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”
He said humanity has “poured the pollution of our hearts upon creation.”
Religions for peace
Pope Francis concluded his address to participants in the International Meeting for Peace with an appeal for courage, saying prayer and action can change the course of history.
“Let us dream of religions as sisters and peoples as brothers!” said the Pope. “Sister religions to help peoples be brothers and sisters living in peace, reconciled stewards of creation, our common home.”