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Roundtable dedicated to “Prayer at the root of peace”

Presentation by His Beatitude Cardinal Ignatius Moussa I Daoud to the “Religion and Cultures: Between Conflict and Dialogue” summit in Sant’Egidio, September 1-3, 2002.

Cardinal Daoud is Patriarch Emeritus of Antioch of the Syrians and Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

Monday, Sept. 2, 2002

(translation by NCR)

1. I want to begin by thanking the Community of Sant’Egidio that, since 1987, continues to bring together every year so many leaders of the different cultures and religions of the world, so that they may reflect together on peace and hence on the means, the methods and the paths that lead to peace. Truly, the community merits the application of the seventh beatitude: “Blessed are the constructors of peace: they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt. 5:9)

2. In connection with this roundtable dedicated to “Prayer at the root of peace,” I want to greet the president of our forum and the illustrious brothers who have agreed to speak, as well as all those who have come in great numbers, attracted by the subject we want to treat.

3. The meeting of Palermo this year is centered on “Religions and Cultures between Conflict and Dialogue.” There are two motives for which our meeting carries a particular importance. On the one hand, it is the first after the terrible events of Sept. 11, and it precedes the anniversary of those events by a week; on the other hand, this meeting is the first after the recent prayer of Assisi, and it appears to want to be its continuation.

4. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that destroyed places considered symbols of economic and military power, have placed in evidence the fragility of the world situation and have provoked very diverse reactions on the international level.

5. I would like to refer, in a special way, to two representative voices that have made themselves heard in the world, although with quite different principles and programs: President Bush and Pope John Paul II.

6. The President of the United States has raised a great alarm in the world, has created a never before seen military budget, and has begun to combat the number one enemy of humanity: terrorism. One must choose. One must stand either for or against terrorism. The military campaign conducted by the United States arrived immediately and struck hard and quick. The Taliban were defeated. A democratic regime was installed in Kabul. Every part of the earth suspected of complicity in terrorism has fallen under threat. Iraq now finds itself on the waiting list. The members of Al-Qaeda are pursued everywhere. And despite it all, Bin Laden cannot be found, and Al-Qaeda does not seem yet reduced to silence … The threat of terrorism has not yet been distanced from us.

Where will this campaign finish? Will it succeed in stabilizing an order of peace, preventing war with war, violence with violence, demanding the arms of the enemy through the use of arms?

In the end, the arms remain in the hands of a part of the world, and their presence expresses in itself an explosive situation.

Can arms play a meaningful role in limiting evil and insanity?

Even if they could, the sign of human division would remain, as would the urgent appeal to reconciliation.

7. Pope John Paul II sees the world situation in a different way. With his immediate condemnation of violence and terrorism, without mincing words, the pope did not limit himself to noting the facts and their apparent effects. He wanted to go to the problem in depth, tracing their causes and origins.

Peace cannot be imposed with force.

Instead of arms, the pope proposes a general culture of peace.

For him, the most effective means for building peace are dialogue and prayer.

This is the sense of the Second Meeting of Assisi, of January 24, 2002.

It could be said that the central point of the meeting were the resolutions of the assembly. These ten commitments in favor of peace - which have received the name of the “Decalogue of Assisi” - constitute a true and proper charter of peace: condemnation of terrorism and every kind of violence, mutual esteem, culture of dialogue, solidarity with those who suffer and are oppressed, friendship among peoples, a program of voluntarily accepted obligations and duties that point to the construction of a true peace in the world.

However, if we look more closely, the soul of the meeting of Assisi was prayer.

The meeting of Assisi was a day of prayer.

8. Why prayer?

If we look around ourselves, that is, at the history we suffer in zones of the world where there is war and violence, violations of human rights, injustices, enormous and shameful social differences, and an absurd culture of death, we would only dare to speak of peace on the basis of the promises of God, not the efforts and commitments of human beings.

Certainly it is not enough to reject war and violence, to radically oppose ourselves to everything that works against human life, and to elaborate strategies or fantasies that begin with diplomacy and human efforts.

All this would remain radically insufficient if there is no prayer.

9. Prayer, on the other hand, has its verification in the history of the church. Allow me to refer to three prodigious and well-known deeds, in which divine intervention is evident thanks to the faith, piety and apostolic fervor of exemplary Christians.

Around 350 the Persian armies invaded Syria, carrying destruction and death everywhere. They arrived at the port of Nissibe, which lived through days of fear and agony.

St. Ephrem the Syrian, a well-known poet of the Madonna, father and doctor of the church, born in Ninive, stood by his bishop, Jacob of Nissibe, in prayer for the liberation of the city. In fact, Nissibe was saved. The Persians were not able to enter and withdrew.

Let’s mention a second fact of history. We find ourselves in the middle of the fifth century. Attila, king of the Huns, commands a great army, numerous in men and arms, and marches towards Italy. He devastates the plains of Pavia and Milan, and with a determined path directs himself at Rome. He is met by a serious man, majestic, Pope Leo the Great, who leads people with no other arms than faith, prayer and the wisdom of the Spirit. Atilla, strongly struck by the presence of that venerable old man, withdraws and frees his prisoners. Rome is saved thanks to prayer.

Paris too was saved by prayer. Atilla marched against the city commanding the Huns. The inhabitants of Paris, seized by panic, began to abandon the city and flee. St. Genevieve addressed the inhabitants and advised them to pray instead of fleeing. Convinced, though not without difficult, the people stayed despite everything in the city. And Paris was spared. The same St. Genevieve became the protector of the city.

From all that I have said come these conclusions:

Peace can be compared to salvation. In both cases, grace arrives with prayer.

Salvation is a gift of God, and God offers it to those who, in faith, open their hearts to it. In the same way, peace is a gift of God that must be implored and requested with prayer.

God grants peace, but desires that we be collaborators with him in love and prayer. The Savior has redeemed the world with his sacrifice, but he wants that we be co-redeemers with him for saving souls.

Our prayer is founded on the love and the strength of God. With the love and the strength of God our prayer can change the world and serve peace.

National Catholic Reporter, Posted September 18, 2002