The name of God cannot be used to justify violence, while “peace alone, and not war, is holy”, Pope Francis declared at the closing ceremony of yesterday’s gathering of religious leaders in Assisi, held on the 30th anniversary of the first such meeting called by St John Paul II [See Crux].

“Violence in all its forms does not represent the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction,” the Pope said, before calling on religious leaders to “free ourselves from the heavy burden of distrust, fundamentalism and hate” in order to be “artisans of peace” through prayer and action. Religious leaders, he said, are “duty bound to be strong bridges of dialogue, creative mediators of peace.”

Francis arrived in Assisi by helicopter yesterday morning to conclude a three-day meeting of religious leaders organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio under the title “Thirst for Peace: Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue.”

After being embraced by Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the two greeted the other religious leaders present, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist communities.

After lunch with refugees (see RNS), leaders of other religions went to different areas for their own prayers, while Francis went with the Christian leaders to the lower Basilica for a prayer service with meditations offered by the different leaders. Francis’ reflection was on the thirst of Christ for love, and the indifference that meets the suffering of war.

In his “I thirst” we can hear the voice of the suffering, the hidden cry of the little innocent ones to whom the light of this world is denied, the sorrowful plea of the poor and those most in need of peace. The victims of war, which sullies people with hate and the earth with arms, plead for peace; our brothers and sisters, who live under the threat of bombs and are forced to leave their homes into the unknown, stripped of everything, plead for peace. They are all brothers and sisters of the Crucified One, the little ones of his Kingdom, the wounded and parched members of his body. They thirst. But they are frequently given, like Jesus, the bitter vinegar of rejection. Who listens to them? Who bothers responding to them? Far too often they encounter the deafening silence of indifference, the selfishness of those annoyed at being pestered, the coldness of those who silence their cry for help with the same ease with which television channels are changed.

The Christian and other religious leaders then gathered in the main piazza for the closing ceremony, where Francis took up the theme of what he called the “paganism of indifference”, which he described as “the great sickness of our time”,  “a virus that paralyzes, rendering us lethargic and insensitive, a disease that eats away at the very heart of religious fervour”.

He said that the differences between religions were not the cause of conflict. “Without syncretism or relativism, we have rather prayed side-by-side and for each other,” he said, quoting his predecessors that violence in the name of religion was the antithesis of true religion. “We never tire of repeating that the name of God cannot be used to justify violence,” Francis said, adding: “Peace alone, and not war, is holy!”

The Pope pointed to “prayer and concrete acts of cooperation” that  “help us to break free from the logic of conflict and to reject the rebellious attitudes of those who know only how to protest and be angry.”

“Prayer and the desire to work together are directed towards a true peace that is not illusory,” he said, adding that peace meant forgiveness, welcome, cooperation and education.

He concluded with a call to religious leaders to be “strong bridges of dialogue, creative mediators of peace” and on their behalf appealed to political leaders that “they not remain deaf to God’s appeal to their consciences, to the cry of the poor for peace and to the healthy expectations of younger generations”.

Republished from Catholic Voices UK with permission. The texts of Pope Francis’ two addresses can be found with the orginal article.

Dr Austen Ivereigh, coordinator and co-founder of Catholic Voices, is an author, journalist and commentator, who is a well-known voice on TV and radio on church affairs. From 2000-2004 he was deputy editor...