February 2012 Evangelization Exchange – Ryan

The Pilgrimage of Truth and Peace in Assisi

by Tom Ryan CSP


TomRyanThumbI traveled from Rome with a group from 18 different countries composed of Eastern and Western Christians, Muslims, and a Jew for the day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world held in Assisi, Italy on October 27 under the motto “Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace.”

The gathering of a large crowd there was in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of a similar event in Assisi convoked by Blessed John Paul II in 1986. This day began in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli with “Testimonies for Peace”, each one about five minutes in length, delivered by ten of the 176 people representing not only the world’s religions, but all people of good will, everyone seeking the truth. A sampling of the kinds of statements that were made:

From left to right: Rev. Dr. Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, World Council of Churches; His Eminence Norvan Zakaryan, Primate Archbishop of the Armenian Diocese in France; His Grace Dr. Rowan Douglas Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury; His Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch

Cardinal Peter Turkson greeted the representatives of churches and world religions with the words “We are gathered here aware of a common call to live together in peace, a deep yearning that throbs incessantly in our hearts. The indefatigable search for that desire’s attainment makes us fellow travelers.”

He expressed the hope that all present would “recommit ourselves today, with the endowments of reason and the gifts of faith, to becoming ever more pilgrims of truth and making our world a place of ever greater peace.”

Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, picked up on the theme of pilgrimage, asserting that by definition it is much more than a journey: “The Biblical concept of ascent was both literal and spiritual. It was literal because one came up the Judean mountains to Jerusalem, to the Holy Temple. However, the physical symbolism sought to imbue a state of mind in the pilgrim’s consciousness of spiritual ascent, of being ever closer to God…. This vision of pilgrimage, of ascent, is central to the prophetic vision of the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth—the messianic vision of universal peace.”

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, presenting his Testimony for Peace

His eminence Norvan Zakarian, primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in France, addressed the question of religious difference: “Religious differences cannot and must not constitute a cause of conflict. The common search for peace on the part of all believers is more often a factor holding the promise of unity between people.”

Dr. Kyai Muzadi, the General Secretary of the International Conference of Islamic Scholars, acknowledged that the presence of religions on this earth is to strengthen the values of peace and world progress, but the reality is that many human problems on the planet in fact originate from people who belong to a religion—because of “a lack of holistic understanding of the teachings of religion…, as well as non-religious interests that piggy-back religious teachings and use religion as a motive for non-religious objectives. Interests beyond religious goals may be political, economic and cultural or other non-religious interests that are made to seem religious.” Ja-Seung, president of the Jogye Order in Korean Buddhism affirmed this, saying, “You and I do not exist as separate individuals; rather, we are all intricately connected with each other. Buddhism offers insight into this truth through the doctrine of Dependent Origination…. We must accept our cultural differences and overcome cultural conflicts through mutual understanding and spiritual growth.”


Ja-Seung, president of the Jogye Order, Korean Buddhism, presenting his Testimony for Peace

Acharya Shri Goswami, a Hindu representative, asked “Why have we not come closer to where we wanted to be 25 years after Pope John Paul started us on today’s pilgrimage? Are we missing the inward part of the journey? Dialogue will be a futile exercise unless we undertake it with humility, forbearance, and the desire to respect the ‘other’. This will empower us to say ‘no’ to injustice of any kind.”

Prof. Wande Abimbola, spokesperson of Ifu and Yoruba Religion, took it a step further: “To respect our fellow men and women is not enough. We need also to develop a profound respect for nature. Unless and until nature, our Mother, is given her due regard and honor in our thoughts and actions, human beings cannot find the true peace and tranquilly which we are all looking for. If we continue on the same path of disrespect and destruction of nature on which we have trodden for centuries, that path can only lead to disaster.”

Prof. Julia Kristeva, a representative of Humanists, struck a positive note in observing that “the meeting of our diversities here in Assisi witnesses that the hypothesis of destruction is not the only one possible.”

Rev. Dr. Olaf Fykse Tveit, Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, reflected how the search for justice and peace for all who live in Jerusalem is a microcosm of how, world-wide, “we are accountable to God and to one another for the peace in our time and for what we say and do not say to achieve it.”

The archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams described the commonality that brought everyone together: “All people of faith have in common the conviction that we are not ultimately strangers to each other. And if we are not strangers, we must sooner or later find a way to embody that mutual recognition in truth and lasting relationships of friendship. We are here today to declare our passionate determination to persuade our world that human beings do not have to be strangers, and that recognition is as possible as it is necessary because of our universal relation to God.”