The richness of the diversity found within humanity and in the created world at large is something that must be respected and never destroyed, said Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
“Peace comes from mutual knowledge and cooperation,” the patriarch told Pope Francis and hundreds of other religious leaders at the end of an interreligious peace meeting in Assisi on 20th September.
“In these years, we can again see ethnic, religious and cultural majorities sense their respective minorities as alien bodies, dangerous for their integrity, as something to be marginalised, expelled and sometimes, unfortunately, annihilated,” said the patriarch. “We witness minorities that close themselves in their own ghettos out of fear of disappearance, fearful of comparisons, too often turning to violence.
“This is discouraging, it causes mass migration,” he said, and it creates problems in promoting a welcoming attitude toward and solidarity with immigrants.
Justice is crucial for bringing peace to those suffering due to war and poverty as well as for the care for the environment, “which is the work of God for believers, but also a common home for everyone,” the patriarch said.
“God did not want to have one plant, one animal, one single person, one planet, one star. He wanted many of them, all different, each with its own specificity and peculiarity, interconnected in a communion of purpose and love,” said Patriarch Bartholomew. “This is the richness we need to proclaim, safeguard and live together.”
Believers of every faith must be consistent in holding to what they profess and believe, he said, but at the same time, they must be “capable of dialogue with the other, capable of seeing the riches of the other, capable of not overpowering the other, of not feeling above or below our neighbour.”
The friendship shared at the Assisi event and others like it, he said, “quenches the thirst for peace.”
Standing outside the Basilica of St Francis as the day was ending, representatives of other faiths also appealed for peace in a world where wars and violence have led to poverty, suffering and death.
Tamara Mikalli, a refugee from Aleppo, Syria, spoke of the heartbreak she experienced as her once peaceful city become the epicentre of the civil war, which is still going on.
“I remember my many Muslim and Christian friends. Now distinctions are made between Christians and Muslims, but before the war there was no difference. Everyone practiced his or her own religion, in a land that formed a mosaic through different cultures, languages and religions,” she said.
Although she remained with her family for three years while the war ravaged her city, Mikalli was forced to flee to Lebanon when her home was bombed.
After two years in Lebanon, Mikalli and her family were offered what she called the “chance to live in peace” by moving to Tuscany in June.
Rabbi David Brodman, chief rabbi of Savyon, Israel, and a Holocaust survivor, said it was important for younger generations to learn from the errors of the past or they “are condemned to repeat it.”
“For me, the spirit of Assisi is the best example for humility and holiness, and it is the answer to the tragedy of the Shoah and of every war,” he said, “because here we say to the world that it is possible to become friends and to live together in peace even if we are different.”
Koei Morikawa, the supreme priest of the Tendai Buddhists, recalled the first interreligious gathering for peace with St. John Paul II in 1986 and expressed his joy in representing his community in Assisi once again.
“It is one of the most joyous occasions of my 91 years of life to be able to pray with world religious leaders, and all of you, gathered here at this event for those people who are in need of assistance,” Morikawa said.
Prayers and dialogue, he continued are the shortest route to peace which, if “attained by force will be overturned by force.”
“In order to create a world with virtue where abhorrence exists and with love where hatred exists, we, clergy, must pray together hand in hand and continue to do our very best,” he said.
Picture: Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during an ecumenical prayer service with religious leaders in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, Italy, on 20th September. The pope and other religious leaders participated in the service that marked the 30th anniversary of St John Paul II’s Assisi interfaith peace gathering. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).