35 Years since John Paul II gathered religious leaders in Assisi, Pope Francis says we can't watch war like spectators from afar.
The International Meeting of Prayer for Peace marked its 35th year with Pope Francis and a host of religious leaders gathered at the foot of the ancient Colosseum in Rome.
This gathering of religious leaders to pray for peace in the world was an initiative of St. John Paul II, who hosted the first such event in 1986 in Assisi, Italy, home of St. Francis.
The Catholic lay Community of Sant’Egidio has continued the event each year, with the participation various times of the Bishops of Rome, both Benedict XVI during his pontificate, and now Francis.
The October 7 event was the culmination of a week’s worth of joint initiatives, with religious leaders speaking out together also on education and the environment.
Held under the theme, “Peoples as Brothers, Future Earth,” the event saw the participation of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism, among others.
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
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 for 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 affects us, though he added that recognizing this truth takes great courage.
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.”
Religions for peace
Pope Francis concluded his address 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.”
See full address here.