"Peace Is Not a Dream"
In Aachen, priests, imams, rabbis et al got congregated to pray for peace together. Around 500 representatives of the world’s religions engaged in spiritual activity and in discussions – on the Middle East Peace process, for example
Previously held in Jerusalem, Brussels and Budapest, this year's conference got underway in Aachen's cathedral on Sunday. German President Johannes Rau sent a welcoming message to the assembled representatives of the world's major religions, in which he stressed the need to discover "what we all have in common, accept our differences and discuss them openly."
The 17th International Meeting for Peace, initiated by the Catholic lay group Sant Egidio of Rome, brings together some 500 representatives of the world's faiths, including Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Zarathustrians and Shintoists as well as many lay intellectuals and political leaders. Entitled "War and Peace: Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue," the meeting includes roundtable discussions conducted in some 30 languages at Aachen's Eurogress Center.
"Peace is not a dream"
The participants - including the Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, the Orthodox Metropolitan Kyrill from Moscow, Paul Spiegel, President of the Central Council for Jews in Germany and EU Commission President Romano Prodi - are expected to debate pressing issues of the day, such as the Middle East and Iraq, AIDS, the environment and the distribution of the world’s natural resources. Organizers say that the military campaign in Iraq has proved that war cannot bring peace.
Also under discussion in Aachen are the many forgotten wars in Africa. Delegates say dialogue could also help here. In his opening address, the founder of the lay group Sant Egidio of Rome, Andrea Riccardi, said: "We had a dream in Rome in 1968 when we started out. We were dreaming of peace."
But the professor drew a sober balance of the current state of the world, saying: "A world that today is full of chasms and conflicts pulls religion into the dynamics of hatred. We know that religion can be used like gasoline and can be poured onto the flames of war making the fire stronger and crueler. At the same time, however, religion can follow its calling, to be water, to extinguish the blaze entirely."
Riccardi was quick to stress that "peace is not a dream, it's not a utopia. It is something that can be attained by speaking to each other and exchanging views," by means of "a slow but constructive dialogue between different religions and different people."
Riccardi said the meeting wanted to show that "men and women are meant for peace and that peace is our destiny." He called upon the world to think more about its people, saying, "we need a strong wind of humanity, not money and riches. We need the winds of peace, not violence; a wind to shake up our deepest thoughts and feelings so that those who have resigned themselves to violence believe again in peace."
He also emphasized that "for all our sakes, I would like this meeting and the prayer here to create a peace network that will win more friends in our country for the benefit of everyone in the whole world."
A wake-up call
At the end of the conference, the organizers intend to present a joint appeal for peace. In a written message to the conference, Pope John Paul II said Europe's multicultural heritage helped it make a considerable contribution to bringing world peace and that dialogue and brotherly love were the only avenue to peace. But referring to New York's World Trade Center, the Pope lamented that "the hopes of many for peace seem to have collapsed with the two towers" on Sept. 11, 2001.
The president of the German Bishop's Conference, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, told those gathered in Aachen that he hoped the first World Peace Conference held in his home country would be a message to the world and a wake up call for the German peace movement which fell silent once the war in Iraq began.
Deutsche Welle staff
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2003