Pope Francis light a candle during an interreligious ceremony in the Campidoglio Square, Rome, Oct. 20, 2020. Credits: Vatican Media.
Pope Francis affirmed the signal importance of peace at an interreligious gathering Tuesday on Rome’s Capitoline Hill.
“We need peace. More peace. We cannot remain indifferent. Today the world has a profound thirst for peace. In many countries, people are suffering due to wars which, though often forgotten, are always the cause of suffering and poverty,” Pope Francis said Oct. 20.
“To put an end to war is a solemn duty before God incumbent on all those holding political responsibilities. Peace is the priority of all politics. God will ask an accounting of those who failed to seek peace, or who fomented tensions and conflicts. He will call them to account for all the days, months and years of war endured by the world’s peoples,” the pope said.
Pope Francis was joined by representatives of the world’s major religions in his appeal for peace in the Campidoglio Square, designed by Michelangelo. The Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and Buddhist representatives each gave speeches, lit a candle in a candelabrum, and signed a scroll containing an “Appeal for Peace.”
Immediately before this interreligious meeting, the pope prayed with other Christian leaders in the neighbouring Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the Capitoline Hill.
“From the cross, forgiveness poured forth and fraternal love was reborn: the cross makes us brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said in his message at the ecumenical prayer service.
“Let us ask the crucified God to grant us the grace to be more united and more fraternal. When we are tempted to follow the way of this world, may we be reminded of Jesus’ words: ‘Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it,’” he said.
Candles were lit in the basilica as the Christians prayed together for peace in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and the Holy Land.
Prayer candles were also lit for an end to violence throughout Central America, the persecution of Christians in Burkina Faso, attacks in northern Mozambique, violence in Venezuela, the conflict in Mali, the violence perpetrated by the drug gangs in Mexico, and instability in Lebanon.
The Christian leaders also prayed for an end to tensions in Belarus, on the Korean peninsula, in the Caucasus region, and between India and Pakistan, as well as for the peace agreements signed in Colombia and South Sudan.
Concurrent gatherings to pray for peace were held by Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists, before everyone came together for the interreligious event on the Capitoline Hill.
The theme of the event, organized by the Sant’Egidio lay Catholic community, was “No one is saved alone,” a phrase that comes from Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti. Pope Francis expanded upon this line in his message at an ecumenical prayer in the basilica before the ceremony:
“The closer we become to the Lord Jesus, the more we will be open and ‘universal,’ since we will feel responsible for others. And others will become the means of our own salvation: all others, every human person, whatever his or her history and beliefs. Beginning with the poor, who are those most like Jesus,” the pope said.
“The great archbishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom, once wrote: ‘If there were no poor, the greater part of our salvation would be overthrown,’” Pope Francis added.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Haim Korsia, Chief Rabbi of France, Mohamed Abdelsalam of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, and Zen Buddhist Shoten Minegishi all spoke at the interreligious event.
In his speech, Abdelsalam, the Muslim General Secretary of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, condemned the recent beheading of a Paris school teacher in an Islamist terror attack.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella and other Italian government authorities were also present at the event.
“Rome and Italy are proud to be once again a crossroads in the dialogue of peace,” Mattarella said.
The Community of Sant’Egidio said that the event was inspired by the first World Day of Prayer for Peace, organized by St. John Paul II in 1986 in Assisi with 160 other religious leaders.
“The Assisi Meeting and its vision of peace contained a prophetic seed that by God’s grace has gradually matured through unprecedented encounters, acts of peacemaking, and fresh initiatives of fraternity,” Pope Francis told the religious and civil leaders.
“Although the intervening years have witnessed painful events, including conflicts, terrorism and radicalism, at times in the name of religion, we must also acknowledge the fruitful steps undertaken in the dialogue between the religions,” the pope said.
The “Appeal for Peace” signed by each of the religious leaders at the event said: “On this Capitoline Hill, in the wake of the greatest conflict in history, the nations that had been at war made a pact based on a dream of unity that later came true: the dream of a united Europe. Today, in these uncertain times, as we feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that threatens peace by aggravating inequalities and fear, we firmly state that no one can be saved alone: no people, no single individual!”
“Wars and peace, pandemics and health care, hunger and access to food, global warming and sustainable development, the displacement of populations, the elimination of nuclear threats and the reduction of inequalities: these are not matters that concern individual nations alone …
Let us pray to the Most High that, after this time of trial, there may no longer be ‘others,’ but rather, a great ‘we,’ rich in diversity. The time has come to boldly dream anew that peace is possible, that it is necessary, that a world without war is not utopian. This is why we want to say once more: ‘No more war.’”