MWC leaders attend pope’s peace gatheringBy Ron Rempel Mennonite World Conference
ASSISI, Italy — Invited by Pope Benedict XVI, religious and humanist leaders gathered Oct. 27 in Assisi, home of the 12th-century Catholic friar and preacher, St. Francis, known for his commitment to peace.
Mennonite World Conference President Danisa Ndlovu of Zimbabwe and general secretary Larry Miller of France were present for a day of reflection, dialogue and personal prayer.
The gathering marked the 25th anniversary of a day of prayer for peace first called by Pope John Paul II at the height of the Cold War in 1986. Paul Kraybill, then MWC executive secretary, attended the 1986 event.
At a second such day, held in 2002, MWC was represented by its president, Mesach Krisetya of Indonesia. Participants in the 2002 event adopted a statement declaring their joint commitment to peace. Krisetya read the summation paragraph. In 2002, MWC and the Catholic Church Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity were finishing a five-year dialogue, “Called Together to be Peacemakers.”
The 2011 event included a reading of the 2002 declaration by Lutheran, Sikh, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Taoist, Shinto, Judaism and Reformed representatives. The declaration included a closing paragraph for “humanists in dialogue with believers.”
The declaration “condemn[s] every recourse to violence and war in the name of God or religion.”
Ndlovu said: “Whether people appropriate and live up to the call or not of this statement, it will remain as a reminder of the cries and longing of our people for peace.”
In issuing the invitation, Pope Benedict gave reason for inviting representatives of “the growing world of agnosticism.”
Inviting some agnostics, he indicated, “is a case of being together on a journey toward truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace.”
MWC general secretary Miller said he knew of no broader gathering of religious leaders collectively calling for a peace that includes justice while renouncing the use of violence to attain it.
“A church once thought by politically established churches to be heretical and consequently subject to religiously supported state repression can only give thanks to God for the renunciation of theocratic political force by all leading world religious figures through the Assisi gatherings,” Miller said.
“The same is true for the parallel Assisi message that lethal violence … should never again be used, certainly not in the name of Christian faith or any other faith.”
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