The cross "is not for crusades but a sign of God’s love embracing everybody", the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches has said at a major interfaith meeting.
The Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit was speaking at a gathering in Assisi called by Pope Benedict XVI.
The WCC chief praised the role of “young change makers” in pursuit of peace and called faith leaders to engage in dialogue by addressing conflicts and accepting “the other”.
Dr Tveit was speaking on a 'Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world' on 27 October, at the meeting which went under the banner “Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”.
The gathering brought together religious leaders from diverse backgrounds. It is a continuation of a tradition initiated by Pope John Paul II, who held this meeting in the town of Assisi 25 years ago.
Following the example of Francis of Assisi, Dr Tveit highlighted the role of “young change makers”.
“Francis was a young man when he surrendered his life to God. His passion for the goodness of creation and example of radical daring for peace show the significance of faith and the courage of young people,” he added.
“Peace in the world requires the perspectives and the contributions of young people. A great obstacle to a just peace today is the high level of unemployment among young people all over the world. We need the vision and the courage of young people for the necessary changes, as we see how they lead processes of democratisation and peace in many countries today.”
Representing the 349 member churches of the WCC, Tveit stressed the need for a “safe space” for all religions to engage in a dialogue, while not shying away from addressing the conflict.
“People are suffering due to clashes of interests as a consequence, since conflicts around Jerusalem are not solved. This city, holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is a visible symbol of our longing, our highest desires, our love of beauty and our desire to worship God. But it is also a powerful reminder of how this best can also go wrong.”
Tveit goes on to say, “Let us as religious leaders pray for justice and peace for Jerusalem and for all who live there. In a mysterious way, Jerusalem does not simply unveil these realities about the human condition but also challenges us at the same time to address them.”
Tveit was accompanied by Clare Amos, WCC programme executive for Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation, who considers Assisi a significant event with a potential for dialogue contributing to peace and justice in the world.
“It is very good that this gathering is seen as a pilgrimage. We come together here sharing a pilgrim spirit of humility, and like all pilgrims we travel in the hope that we will transformed through our journey, and that we will eventually return to our everyday situations with renewed vision and determination to work for both truth and peace,” said Dr Amos.
* The WCC General Secretary's speech can be read here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15606