Assisi Encounter Inspires Events in the United States

GARRISON, N.Y. (CNS) — Peace begins with the individual, and each person is called to be a peacemaker.

That was one of the main messages conveyed by panelists at the interfaith Spirit of Assisi Gathering, sponsored Oct. 27 by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor in Garrison. The event was one of many worldwide marking the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace convened by Pope John Paul II in Assisi Oct. 27, 1986.

Panelists agreed that religion has an important role to play in fostering peace by bringing people together and helping them to see their unity as brothers and sisters, and children of the one God.

The event’s theme was “How Interreligious Cooperation Can Impact World Peace.”

“There can be no peace in the world without peace between religions,” said the moderator, Atonement Father Elias Mallon, in his opening remarks.

A similar event, “Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace,” took place at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Manhattan, which is administered by the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province. Participating clergy included representatives of the Lutheran, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches as well as Judaism and Islam.

At Graymoor, each panelist spoke about peace, interreligious relations and the unity of people from his own faith perspective. Catholic Archbishop Donald Reece, retired archbishop of Kingston, Jamaica, said that “self-introspection and self-criticism are essential” in interfaith dialogue and “the achievement of the common good.” He spoke of the meeting that St. Francis had with Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt in 1219, during the Crusades. Despite the dangers involved, Francis was able to meet with him “because he did not consider the sultan an enemy; he considered him a brother,” the archbishop said.

Also on the panel was the Rev. Douglas Hostetter, director of the Mennonite Central Committee’s U.N. office. Mennonites, he said, “take seriously the biblical understanding that all people are created in the image of God.” He noted that for 500 years, Mennonites have refused to fight in wars or to “take another life in the name of the state.”

“We need to all recognize and affirm that we are part of one family, the children of one God,” he said.

Rabbi Lee Paskind of the First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill said people must respect each other and work together for the common good.

“We can and should learn each other’s traditions and celebrate them,” he said.

Imam Syed-Mohsin Naqvi, editor of the Islamic quarterly The IIC Monitor, said members of various faith groups should not seek to practice tolerance, but rather acceptance. People of faith must accept one another as equals, he said, and must not look down on one another.

The Rev. Masamichi Kamiya, who leads the Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist Center in New York, said awareness of the sacredness of one’s own life leads to an appreciation of the sacredness of the lives of others.

Carl Murrell, representative to the United Nations for the National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’i of the United States, spoke of religion as the ultimate source of meaning, and he explained that Baha’i faith emphasizes the oneness of humanity and the oneness of religion. He said the Baha’i community “vigorously promotes interfaith activities … in response to the divine will.”

Meanwhile in San Francisco, representatives of the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim faiths gathered for a morning of prayer and exhortation at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi Oct. 27.

The religious leaders signed a commitment to peace that condemned terrorism and violence and called for dialogue and understanding.

The document also committed them “to forgiving one another for past and present errors and prejudices, and to supporting one another in a common effort both to overcome selfishness and arrogance, hatred and violence and to learn from the past that peace without justice is no true peace.”

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