Global faith gathering tackles religious roots of terror
Faith leaders from across the globe met at Georgetown University in Washington DC last week ñ the first time the annual interfaith forum initiated 20 years ago by Pope John Paul II has been held in the United States.
The aim of the two-day International Prayer for Peace was not to draft policies, but to foster greater ties and communication between the major religions in an increasingly globalized world.
This year's panel discussions included a focus on the role of religion in combatting AIDS, poverty and genocide, and in resolving conflict.
Religiously motivated terrorism was also a central theme because of the 9/11 attacks, suicide bombings, the activities of militants and the so-called ëwar on terrorí.
The event featured 100 speakers from many different faith communities, including Catholics, Jews, Methodists, Muslims, Mennonites, Eastern Orthodox Christians and Shintoists _ as well as charity groups, academics, journalists and diplomats.
Imam Warith D. Mohammed said those who perpetrate terror for religious purposes "have no light. They have no understanding, they can't see, so they are striking out in the dark. "
Pope John Paul II, who frequently reached out to other faiths, held the first meeting in October 1986 when he gathered with leaders from the world religions in Assisi, Italy, to pray, fast and hold a "World Day of Prayer for Peace."
Several warring states and insurgent groups in such places as Lebanon and Nicaragua heeded his call for a 24-hour truce that day.
"He knew the more we could get on the same page, the same place, the same relation to a God that loves us all, the more powerful our prayers would be," said Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick as he welcomed the gathering of 500 persons to Georgetown.
Organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio, a lay Catholic group based in Rome, the meetings have traditionally been held in Italian and other European cities. Last year, the meeting was in Lyon, France.
The Community is associated with the base Christian movement, but it has also attracted the attention and admiration of denominational leaders such as Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the worldís 77 million Anglicans.
US undersecretary of state Karen Hughes also spoke at the interfaith peace meeting. She said that it was a misuse of religion to use it to justify terror and insurgency.
But she had nothing to say about state violence or the legitimation of war as an instrument of policy by many of President Bushís allies on the religious right.
[Also on Ekklesia: Consuming Passion, edited by Simon Barrow and Jonathan Bartley, on religion and violence; Briefing on Christian Peacemaker Teams; Pope's warning about myth of redemptive violence; Does Christianity kill or cure?, Taking the murder out of religion (all by Simon Barrow); Schwarzenegger vows to terminate reformed gang leader; Becoming a Peace Church (File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML); When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations and Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Walter Wink); Demanding Peace: Christian Responses to War and Violence (A. E. Harvey); Violence in God's Name: The Role of Religion in an Age of Conflict (Oliver McTernan); War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence (Susan Niditch); Christianity and Violence (Giles Fraser); Is Religion Killing Us? Violence in the Bible and the Qur'an (Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer); God's Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence and the Rhetoric of Salvation (Timothy Gorringe); TV producer defends claims about God, Bush and Iraq; Williams tells Muslims crusades betrayed Christian beliefs; Anti-war sermon brings tax trouble; President Bush's church decries injustice and war in Iraq; Evangelicals slam bush for his 'theology of war'; Problems in Theology : War and Peace; Bush criticised for claiming God made him go to war]