ROME – Speaking to Italian government officials and religious leaders during a Tuesday interfaith prayer for peace, Pope Francis issued an appeal to fraternity as a remedy to war and conflict, insisting love is what creates space for brotherhood to happen.
“We need peace! More peace! We cannot remain indifferent,” the pope said during an Oct. 20 ecumenical prayer event organized by the Sant’Egidio community, adding that “Today the world has a profound thirst for peace.”
For the better part of the event, Pope Francis wore a mask as part of anti-Covid 19 protocols, something he’d previously been seen doing only in the car that ferried him to and from appearances. The gesture came as a new wave of infections is mounting in Italy, and after four members of the Swiss Guards tested positive for COVID-19.
“The world, political life and public opinion all run the risk of growing inured to the evil of war, as if it were simply a part of human history,” he said, and pointed to the plight of refugees and the displaced, as well as victims of the atomic bombs and chemical attacks, noting that the impact of war in many places has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“To put an end to war is a solemn duty before God incumbent on all those holding political responsibilities. Peace is the priority of all politics,” Francis said, insisting that “God will ask an accounting of those who failed to seek peace, or who fomented tensions and conflicts. He will call them to account for all the days, months and years of war endured by the world’s peoples!”
Peace must be pursued by the entire human family, he said, and touted human fraternity – the topic of his latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti, published on the Oct. 4 feast of St. Francis of Assisi – as a remedy.
“Fraternity, born of the realization that we are a single human family, must penetrate the life of peoples, communities, government leaders and international assemblies,” he said.
Pope Francis spoke during a global day of prayer for peace organized Sant’Egidio, the pope’s favorite of the so-called “new movements.”
Titled, “No one is saved alone – Peace and Fraternity,” Tuesday’s event lasted roughly two hours and consisted of an interfaith prayer service held at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, which was followed by a brief procession to Rome’s Piazza del Campidoglio, where speeches were given and a “Rome 2020 Appeal for Peace” signed by all religious leaders in attendance was presented.
The event was attended by leaders of various religious communities in Rome and abroad, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. Italian President Sergio Mattarella was also in attendance, as was Virginia Raggi, the major of Rome, and the president of Sant’Egidio, Italian layman Andrea Riccardi.
This is the second time Pope Francis has participated in a day of prayer for peace organized by Sant’Egidio, the first of which was a 2016 event in Assisi. In 1986 St. John Paul II visited Perugia and Assisi for the World Day of Prayer for Peace. Sant’Egidio has celebrated the day of prayer for peace every year since 1986.
In his homily, Pope Francis referred to the many voices shouting for Jesus to save himself while hanging from the cross, insisting that this is a temptation that “spares no one, including us Christians.”
“To focus only on our own problems and interests, as if nothing else mattered. It is a very human instinct, but wrong. It was the final temptation of the crucified God,” he said, noting that those who taunted Jesus did so for various reasons.
He warned against having a misguided idea of God, preferring a “wonder-working god to one who is compassionate,” and condemned the attitude of the priests and scribes who did not appreciate what Jesus did for others, but wanted him to look out for himself. He also pointed to the thieves, who asked Jesus to save them from the cross, but not necessarily from sin.
Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross, Pope Francis said, “mark the turning point, for God points a finger at no one, but instead embraces all.”
After the pope’s homily, attendees observed a moment of silence in memory of all those who have died due to war or the current coronavirus pandemic. A special prayer was then offered during which the names of all countries experiencing war or conflict were mentioned, and a candle lit as a sign of peace.
At the close of the speeches during the second half of the day’s event, the Rome 2020 “Appeal for Peace” was read aloud. Once the appeal had been read, children were given copies of the text, which they then brought to the various ambassadors and political representatives present.
In the appeal leaders noted that it was on Rome’s Capitoline Hill, where the event took place, that the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, which established the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner of the EU.
“Today, in these uncertain times, as we feel the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that threatens peace by aggravating inequalities and fear, we firmly state that no one can be saved alone: no people, no single individual!”, they said.
“Before it is too late, we would remind everyone that war always leaves the world worse than it was,” they said, calling war a “failure of politics and of humanity” and asking government leaders to “reject the language of division, often based on fear and mistrust, and to avoid embarking on paths of no return.”
They urged global leaders to look to the victims and urged them to work together “to create a new architecture of peace” by promoting healthcare, peace and education, and by diverting funds used to create weapons and to spend it instead in “caring for humanity and our common home.”
Pope Francis during his speech stressed that the reason for gathering together was to “to send a message of peace” and to “show clearly that the religions do not want war and, indeed, disown those who would enshrine violence.”
To this end, he praised milestones in fraternity such as the document on Human Fraternity for World
Peace and Living Together, which he signed with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, during a visit to Abu Dhabi in 2019.
What religious leaders are asking for, he said, is for “everyone to pray for reconciliation and to strive to enable fraternity to pave new paths of hope. For indeed, with God’s help, it will be possible to build a world of peace, and thus to be saved together.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen