The Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi – the fifth of its kind, by my calculation – has come and gone.
What have we learned from the
First of all, there were lots of people present, all
representing various religious groupings, but, and this strikes me as
the key thing to remember, all of these people praying for peace are
themselves very peaceable people.
The people who identify themselves as
religiously committed, and equally committed to violence, were not
there. So Assisi was essentially the converted preaching to themselves.
Naturally, those who believe in peace should pray for peace and
should give a witness to peace, and should also underline the fact that
religious warriors have espoused an essentially self-contradictory and
This is something that we all need to be reminded
of, as I am sure all people of goodwill will agree.
However, despite the
admirable witness given at Assisi, there is no evidence that those who
believe that religion goes with coercion – the Saudi government, the
Pakistani government, not to mention ISIS and Boko Haram – were
listening or even noticing what was going on in Assisi.
No one can seriously doubt that the Pope and the patriarch of
Constantinople are committed to peace and dialogue – no one reasonable,
But the tragic truth is that rational discourse is in retreat
more or less everywhere.
Take the recent hysterical conspiracy theories
to come out of Turkey, which hint that the recent coup was somehow a Catholic or Greek Orthodox plot.
And this is Turkey, a country that is supposed to be deeply
westernised. Needless to say there are other even more distressing
examples that one could quote, if one had space to do so.
Peace is a
gift of God, of course, but it is also something that should be chosen
on the grounds of common human rationality; but with rationality in
retreat, peace suffers: Syria, Ukraine, Nigeria, Iraq, Central African
Republic, the list is long.
Disappointingly, as far as I was able to discern, the Assisi meeting
attracted little interest from the outside world. This magazine carried
reports, but the secular press in Britain largely ignored it.
The Pope prays for peace – it’s hardly a story.
suspects round themselves up.
Tell us something we don’t know, might
well have been the response of most news editors.
So what, then, should the Church and other religious people do, if we
are to avoid speaking to ourselves in an echo chamber that the world
ignores? It is certainly frustrating.
The world routinely and ignorantly
blames religion for all wars; but when religion wants to promote peace,
it covers its ears. When religious people, such as the Christians in
the Middle East, are victims of war, it does not want to know.
is certainly not interested in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue;
that rarely makes headlines. By contrast, ISIS and Boko Haram, with
their propaganda of the deed, regularly grab the headlines. There is no
difficulty for them getting access to the oxygen of publicity.
Assisi seems to have run its course. Something more daring is called
for. Just as St Francis inspired the Assisi meetings, perhaps the same
saint can help again. He travelled to Egypt to speak to the sultan.
Perhaps Pope Francis needs to go to Syria, and go to Ukraine, without a
huge retinue, and be with those who are suffering aggression.
He wants a
Church on the side of those who suffer.
His trip to Lesbos certainly
caught the world’s attention.
A trip to Aleppo would perhaps do the