No more war!
Fr Lukasz Jaksik
Thousands of visitors from all over the world and thousands of Cracovians. Catholics, Christians from various denominations, representatives of non-Christian religions and intellectuals. All of them had one prayer intention.
The Congress for Peace ‘Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue’ ended with an appeal of the world religions to build stable peace on earth. For three days over 2,500 representatives of different religions from every continent, politicians and scientists discussed the political, social and cultural problems of our times and the role of the world faiths in solving these problems. One of the main events of the gathering was prayer for peace, which the participants uttered in various places, including the former Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. ‘Religions do not want war and do not want to be used for war’, the participants of the Congress for Peace emphasized in their appeal at the end of the meeting.
The Archdiocese of Krakow hosted outstanding guests from the whole world. Throughout three days they brought the spirit of Assisi to the city on the Vistula River. The Meeting ‘Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue’ began with Mass in the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow-Lagiewniki on 6 September 2009. During the meeting you could also feel the spirit of John Paul II. The call of the Polish Pope, ‘No more war’, which he uttered hearing about the bombs threatening peace. John Paul II himself carried the experience of totalitarianism, which affected the history of Europe so hard after the tragic events of September 1939. The participants of the Krakow meeting referred to the 70th anniversary of those events. The papal initiative of dialogue between religions and prayers in Assisi resulted from that experience, too. ’70 years after the outbreak of World War II we arrived in Krakow as pilgrims of various religions to give homage to this land that was the first to be trampled’, said Prof. Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio. In his opinion the globalised world again needs this unity, which will not be built without participation, contribution and dialogue of particular faiths. ‘We have only one way: the way of peace’, he tried to convince the audience. After years one can see that John Paul was right, believing so much in the power of dialogue and common prayer. This was mentioned by Michele Brancale, the leader of the Community of Sant’Egidio. ‘Europe has developed without war for many years but in Africa there are few places that have not experienced this misfortune’, he said. Thanks to some similar initiatives the identity of every religion has not suffered but strengthened its foundation confronting its most important obligation towards Lord God, which is to build peace in the whole world and service to mankind afflicted by wars.
In his letter to the participants President Lech Kaczynski, who took patronage over the Congress, wrote, ‘Peace between religions is the greatest gift and most wonderful testimony that we can offer to the world’ and he added that ‘religious freedom is the foundation of freedom.’ His words deserve unique attention in the situation when politicians in many European halls try to eliminate religion from the European awareness. Similarly, we can look at the speech of the President of the European Commission José Manuela Barroso, who spoke about the chances and challenges of contemporary Europe. He referred to the spiritual values of Europe such as tolerance, multiculturality, solidarity, which – according to him – were connected with the spirit of Assisi and made people the most important part of community. ‘The principles that were fixed in the West after the period of the Enlightenment (characterised by tolerance) are applied by the people of the West themselves but they forget to use them towards others, especially when they deal with the world of Islam’, said Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Rector of the University Al-Azhar in Egypt. He stressed that Islam was a religion of dialogue whereas the Western world still saw Muslims as enemies, looking at them contemptuously through the prism of their own interests. Cardinal Paul Poupard reminded the audience that in 1989 during the session of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which he presided over, John Paul II remarked that although the borders between the East and the West had disappeared in Europe the division between rich and poor countries was still powerful. Today, after 20 years we still lacked new justice, which existed merely in the sphere of hope.’ Overcoming this division, in the name of the principle of solidarity, must be even now treated as an important mission for Europe.
Rich in variety
The final appeal of the participants of the meeting included the spirit of the meeting in Assisi. As we read in the appeal the religious traditions, through their diversities, speak together powerfully that the world without spirit will never be human. ‘They show the way to return to God who is the source of peace.’ ‘May God grant the wonderful gift of peace to the whole world, to every woman and every man.’ The appeal was handed to the representatives of the countries of the Congress by the Cracovian children. On the last day of the meeting the Christians of various denominations, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists and representatives of other religions participated in the Remembrance Ceremony in the territory of the former death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau to pay homage to the victims of the Nazi massacre. After returning to Krakow they prayed for peace in their own communities. The meetings for peace have been organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio for years and they are a kind of continuation of the meeting of different religions held in 1986 at the invitation of John Paul II. This year’s meeting was organised in Krakow to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and on the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in Central-Eastern Europe.