No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness
For immediate release: 31 October 2011
Clare Amos, the World Council of Churches (WCC) programme executive for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation shares reflections from her participation with the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at the vibrant interfaith gathering of Assisi on 27 October, called by Pope Benedict XVI to promote a message of peace and inter-faith harmony in our world.
*Reflections by Clare Amos
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”. These words, from the prayer traditionally ascribed to St Francis, were a sentiment in the hearts and minds of many who participated in the “pilgrimage of truth, pilgrimage of peace” which took place in Assisi – hometown of Francis – on October 27 2011.
Called by Pope Benedict XVI, and intended to mark the 25th anniversary of the first multi-faith pilgrimage to Assisi in 1986, representatives of most world religions were present – as well as members of many Christian churches and traditions. The marvellous array of different dress was a visual sign of the great variety of people who, by their presence, were making a commitment to work for peace in our world. The WCC was represented by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary and myself. There were also, leaders present from many of the WCC’s member churches. They were part of the group of almost 300 people to take the special train which was arranged for the pope and his guests taking them from Rome to Assisi. The enthusiastic crowd that lined the route and waved as the train passed through the stations on its journey suggested how the vision of peace proposed by “Assisi 2011” has caught peoples’ imagination.
In Assisi itself the programme was divided between morning events in the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels just outside town, and an afternoon programme in the piazza of St Francis in the heart of the city. The programme was designed to engage heart and soul as well as mind – with the earlier part of the day offering intellectual challenge, and the afternoon music and dance, colourful symbolic gestures and opportunity for participation in an act of personal and institutional commitment to work for peace.
The WCC general secretary was one of the four Christian leaders who had been invited to make a speech as part of the morning’s programme. Tveit’s words about the importance of young people as peacemakers for our world today, and his reflection on the role of the city of Jerusalem as both symbol of peace and symbol of conflict attracted wide attention.
Along with Christian speakers there were also five representative speakers from other world religions – and one speaker from the humanist tradition. After his guests had spoken the pope addressed the gathering. It was a sombre message, reflecting on the ambiguous role that religion had played in the history of the world – how it had not always been in fact a tool for peace, and the “constant need for purification of lived religion”. At the end he invited his guests to continue on “a journey towards truth” and make “a common engagement for peace against every form of destructive forces”.
The excitement of the day was particularly apparent in the afternoon, as every small space in the town of Assisi was filled with people from all parts of the world wanting to participate in whichever way possible. As we were asked by Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council of Promoting Christian Unity to hold lighted lamps and candles we were invited to become “instruments of the peace that comes from above… [to] remember that there is no peace without justice; that there is no justice without forgiveness”.
It was a day not without its ambiguities – the striking under-representation of women in the official delegations was a notable example, which somehow needs to be addressed for future occasions. But like many others, those present from the WCC would want to offer thanks to Roman Catholic colleagues for their generous hospitality, and the smooth and efficient running of the day.
The challenge now of course is to ensure that “Assisi 2011” does not remain just a one off day experience for a comparatively small group of people, but helps to sustain and reinforce the path of peace for the ongoing future of our world!
* Clare Amos is the WCC programme executive for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.