Mennonite leaders have reflected positively on their recent experiences of a day of reflection, dialogue and personal prayer in Assisi, Italy, the home of the 12th century Catholic friar and preacher, St Francis, known for his commitment to peace.
Danisa Ndlovu, Mennonite World Conference (MWC) President, and Larry Miller, MWC General Secretary, joined with leaders of many other religious communities and several humanist organisations in a day that 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 President Mesach Krisetya. Participants in the 2002 event adopted a statement declaring their joint commitment to peace. The final summation paragraph was read by Krisetya. In 2002, MWC and the Catholic Church (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) were finishing up their five year dialogue under the title of “Called Together to be Peacemakers.”
The 2011 event, called by Pope Benedict XVI, included a reading of the 2002 declaration by representatives of the following religious communities: Lutheran, Sikh, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Taoist, Shinto, Judaism, and Reformed. The 2011 declaration included an additional closing paragraph for “humanists in dialogue with believers,” read by a Mexican philosopher.
According to Danisa Ndlovu, “the meeting was timely as it took place when it was clear to all the peoples of world regardless of their religious affiliations of the need for peace due to crisis situations of various kinds across the globe. More than the composition of the people that were a part of this meeting, it is the statement that was read by various religious leaders that was for me significant and profound.”
He added: “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. No religious leader and Christian leaders in particular, should find pleasure in violence and injustice of any kind perpetrated to any of God’s creation. I can only hope the statement will be shared with as many church leaders as possible and that in turn they will be committed to be ambassadors of peace wherever God places them.”
In issuing the invitation to Assisi, Pope Benedict XVI stated: “Every care will be taken to present a correct image of dialogue…among people of different religions, avoiding any forms of relativism or syncretism.” He also gave his reason for inviting representatives of “the growing world of agnosticism.”
Inviting some agnostics, he indicated, “is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive violence.”
When asked to comment on MWC involvement in this event, Miller stated: “There has been, as far as I know, no broader gathering of world religious leaders standing together to call for peace which includes justice while focusing on renouncing the use of all violence to attain it…. As a primary world representative of and advocate for ‘Peace Church’ perspectives, members of the Anabaptist world communion needed to be present to lend support for and join their voice to all those now taking this position.”
Miller added: “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. The same is true for the parallel Assisi message that lethal violence —whether war or terrorism or in some other form—should never again be used, certainly not in the name of Christian faith or any other faith.”
(c) Ron Rempel is Mennonite World Conference news editor.