Papal Message to "Peoples and Religions" Meeting in Sicily

"Darkness Is Not Dissipated with Arms"

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 2, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Here is the message John Paul II sent to the international meeting of Peoples and Religions, being held in Palermo, Sicily, through Tuesday.



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To My Venerable Brother,
The Cardinal Roger Etchegaray,
President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace,

Receive, dear Cardinal, my kind greetings, which I would ask you to give to the distinguished participants in the 16th International Meeting of Prayer for Peace, held in Palermo with the topic "Faiths and Cultures Between Conflict and Dialogue."

I greet the Archbishop of Palermo, Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, the beloved Churches of Sicily and their priests. I am sure that these days of reflection and prayer will help the people of Sicily, with even more awareness, to make of their island a land of welcome and solidarity, of coexistence and peace. Indeed, the vocation of Sicily is that of a crossroads of meeting, at the heart of the Mediterranean, between North and South, between East and West.

2. The forthcoming meeting at Palermo takes me back to Assisi, to that 27 October 1986 when, for the first time, I invited representatives of Churches, Christian communities, and of the great religions to pray for peace, one beside the other. And you, dear Cardinal, were one of the main promoters of that memorable day, which marked the beginning of a new way of meeting between believers of different religions, not with mutual opposition and less so in mutual contempt, but in the search for a constructive dialogue in which, without falling into relativism or syncretism, each one opens to others with esteem, all being conscious that God is the source of peace.

Since then, extending the Spirit of Assisi, these meetings of prayer and mutual reflection have been organized and I thank the Community of Sant'Egidio for its courage and audacity with which it has recaptured the "Spirit of Assisi" that, year to year, has made its strength felt all over the world. Thanks to God, there are not a few cases in which the Spirit of Assisi, favoring dialogue and mutual understanding, has brought along concrete fruits of reconciliation. We are, then, invited to support it and to spread it, by walking along the path of justice, certain of the help of God who knows how to open ways of peace where men do not succeed.

Nowadays it is even more necessary to live this spirit; this is the reason why last January I wished to return to Assisi, together with the representatives of Christian Churches and the great religions after the dramatic events of last September 11th. Assisi, then, became like an "agora" of peace between peoples, and there I said that it was necessary to lift the fog of suspicion and misunderstanding. But darkness is not dissipated with arms; it is removed with lamps of light (see "Speech in Assisi," 24 January 2002).

3. In Palermo, on the 1st of September, these lamps will light again to shed their beams on all the Mediterranean, a place of ancient coexistence among different religions and cultures, but also a scenario of misunderstanding and cruel conflicts. Specifically, I am thinking about the Holy Land, immersed in a spiral of what seems unstoppable violence.

In addition to the painful conflicts, how many peoples are oppressed by hunger and poverty, especially in Africa, a continent that seems to incarnate the existing imbalance between the North and the South of the planet! Let a new appeal spring from Palermo, an appeal that will make everyone be committed to justice and authentic solidarity with responsibility.

4. The topic of the Congress offers the possibility to make a global analysis of the planet's situation and to evaluate which steps we have to take together.

"Which are the foundations to build up during this new period in history?"

This point, which emerged from the important transformations of the 20th century, questions our religious traditions and our different cultures. "Will it be enough" -- I asked the youth gathered in Toronto for the recent World Youth Day -- "to bet on the present technological revolution that seems only ruled by production and efficiency criteria, without a reference to the religious dimension of man, and without universally acknowledged ethical principles" (speech at the Vigil, 27 July 2002).

The urgency of this moment reminds humanity that the reason for our existence, and the root of our hope, can only be found in the Face of God. May the meeting in Palermo enhance this general awareness and contribute to build a world with more fraternity and freedom.

I offer my spiritual participation and heartily invoke from God every blessing on the works of the congress and on all its participants.

Castel Gandolfo, 29 August 2002