Between September 18 and 20, the community Sant’Egidio hosted religious leaders from across different faiths in Assisi, Italy, for a 3-day inter-religious peace meeting, aimed at achieving peaceful coexistence in the world
By Adam Alqali
The world is today grappling with several conflicts and crises, many of whom could directly be linked to religion. And when you talk of religious conflicts in the world, 3 of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – easily come to mind.
It was in the spirit of bringing about peaceful coexistence among the followers of the world’s different faiths that religious leaders converged at Assisi, Italy, for a 3-day inter-religious peace meeting, between September 18 and 20.
The annual world meeting of religious leaders was initiated by the Pope (Saint) John Paul II, on October 27th 1986 and since then, every year, members of various religions of the world including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, gather to discuss and dialogue about how religions could be force for world peace – and not violent conflicts.
This year’s event themed: “Thirst for Peace. Religions and Cultures in Dialogue” was hosted by the Community of Sant Egidio, an ecumenical movement working to build bridges of understanding between cultures, religions and races.
Speaking at the meeting’s opening ceremony, founder of the Community of Sant’ Egidio, Andrea Riccardi, said dialogue was something humanity needed to face more than anything else, adding that the alternative was “too horrifying even to conceive”.
Riccardi, who said no power, could hold together a world so fragmented and complex, however, added that there was the need for a global and ecumenical vision and the awareness that “we all belong to the same creator.” “The art of dialogue becomes paramount to unite and bridge gaps, to illuminate what is shared and give value to what is different,” he said.
“Men and women of different religions, we have come together as pilgrims to the city of Saint Francis,” read the 2016 Appeal for Peace read at the meeting in Assisi. “Here, in 1986, thirty years ago, at the invitation of the Pope John Paul II, religious representatives from all over the world gathered for the first time in such large numbers and with solemnity to affirm that there is an unbreakable bond between that great good, peace, and an authentic religious attitude.”
The appeal further adds that: “May a new age finally comes, in which the globalized world will become a family of nations. May we feel responsible for building a true peace, which would be attentive to the authentic needs of individuals and communities, which would prevent conflicts through collaboration, and which would overcome hatred and barriers through encounters and dialogue.”
A four-man Nigerian delegation headed by the Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, and had as members, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama and the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, also participated at the meeting.
At the event, Cardinal John Onaiyekan spoke on the theme “Terrorism Denies God” and both the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, and the Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama spoke on the “Challenges of Global Africa” while Bishop Matthew Kukah spoke on “Christians and Muslims to the Test of Co-existence”.
A week later, a similar event with religious leaders was held by Sant’Egidio community at Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
Speaking at the event, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto wondered why Africans were going to war for “flimsy reasons” adding that the future of peace on the continent was in the hands of its youth population.
Also speaking at the program, Ibrahim Jega, the executive secretary of the board of Abuja’s National Mosque said interfaith dialogue was clearly stated in both Muslim and Christian scriptures adding that “it had been abandoned by followers of both faiths”.
“Christianity teaches us to love one another while Islam teaches us to care for our neighbors – irrespective of their faith,” said Jega. “The prophet sent his companions to take refuge with the Christian King Negus of Abyssinia and when the pagan Meccans came looking for them he refused to hand the Muslims over to them.”
Jega, who urged followers of both Islam and Christianity to be “sincere and committed” to the true teachings of their religions, towards peaceful coexistence added that groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, and Boko Haram were not fighting religious wars, instead; were fighting for their selfish interests.
Forums like that are believe to be critical in building bridges of understanding among the followers of various religions of the world towards attaining peaceful and harmonious coexistence among the peoples of the world.