Religions and peace at heart of Pope's audiences with Shimon Peres and Jordanian prince
Pope Francis held two private audiences on Thursday morning, one with the former President of Israel, Shimon Peres, and another with Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. The director of the Press Office of the Holy See briefed journalists on the audiences.
“Peres,” explained Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, “asked for the audience in order to inform the Pope about his activities and his projects for peace,” which include a joint youth sporting initiative involving “twinned” Israeli and Palestinian cities, in which more than 80 children will participate during the course of the year, and a “United Religions” organization modelled on the United Nations.
"In the past, most wars were motivated by the idea of nationhood. Today, however, wars are incited above all using religion as an excuse," Peres told the Catholic magazine, Famiglia Cristiana, ahead of the papal meeting Sept. 4. In an exclusive interview with the magazine, the 91-year-old former two-term prime minister of Israel said he wanted to establish an international body representing the world’s major religions, as a moral force able to intervene in conflicts.
Peres said Pope Francis would be the best person to head such a world body because "perhaps for the first time in history, the Holy Father is a leader who’s respected, not just by a lot of people, but also by different religions and their representatives."
"In fact, perhaps he is the only leader who is truly respected" in the world, said Peres, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1994 with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Premier Yitzak Rabin.
Peres said the United Nations and its peacekeepers "do not have the force or the effectiveness of any one of the Pope’s homilies, which can draw half a million people just in St. Peter’s Square alone."
"So given that the United Nations has run its course, what we need is an organization of United Religions," Peres said, as "the best way to counteract these terrorists who kill in the name of their faith."
"What we need is an unquestionable moral authority who says out loud, ‘No. God doesn’t want this and doesn’t allow it,’" he said.
Prayer is also an important part of peacemaking, he said; people should not underestimate "the power of the human spirit."
"We must not become cynical. The human being is much more than being made up of just flesh and blood," he said.
Speaking to Vatican Radio after the audiences and the briefing, Father Lombardi said that the audience with the former Israeli president lasted roughly 45 minutes, during which time “The Holy Father expressed all his attention, his respect for President Peres’s initiative, and guaranteed the attention of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, which are particularly committed to [peacebuilding and religious-cultural understanding], most especially the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, with Cardinals Tauran and Turkson [at their respective heads].”
The Pope, however, did not commit himself to the proposal.
About the former president’s proposal for a “United Religions” organization, the papal spokesman said that it was a topic discussed during the audience, and an occasion also to revisit the historic meeting at the Vatican, in which then-President Peres participated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The prayer for peace initiative which took place here at the Vatican, with the participation of Peres and [Abbas] is in no wise to be considered a failure—subsequent developments notwithstanding—but rather as the opening of a door that remains open, through which initiatives and values can be encouraged to develop and go forward—something that Pope Francis stressed to me following the audience, in agreement with President Peres,” said Father Lombardi.