Ladies and Gentlemen,
“Et pax in terris hominibus bonae voluntatis” says a passage of the Gospel that appeared for a long time in the Catholic Liturgy. The current translation is “And peace on earth to men of good will”. It is possible, but not completely plausible, because peace is not a reward for people who behave well, it is the work of people who were able to yearn for it. An alternative translation could run “peace on earth through men of good will”, and I believe it would be more exact.
It is, anyhow, this last version that our meeting relates to. Under the auspices of the Community of Sant’Egidio, is it not an example of what men and women of good will can achieve while seeking the good will of other human beings? The major contribution of the spirit of Sant’Egidio to reconciliation between fierce enemies is known, as well as – in a number of cases – its contribution to peace. Here is the place to pay homage to the inspiration and action of this community, strong in its enthusiasm, its skill and its discretion, built on the practice of respect as the tenet of action, the same unanimous respect it is surrounded by today.
And here of course is the place to thank this land and its people, the Church of Cyprus, his Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos and the government officials, for the warm welcome they have reserved to us all. Indeed, as your guests we stand today at a significant crossroads of the human family.
For this, then, should we speak of a “civilisation of peace”, and place this concept in apposition to the idea of “faiths and cultures in dialogue”? It is what we have the task of discussing in these days.
“Civilisation of peace” can be understood in two ways:
The first, more limited meaning, is in opposition to militarization: everyone knows the Latin proverb “si vis pacem, para bellum”. The second, wider meaning, seems to proclaim the coming of a new era, a civilisation of peace – what UNESCO, in other times, used to call a Culture of peace.
That is precisely the definition found in the UNESCO Constitution. Proclaimed immediately after World War II, the UNESCO Constitution opens with an observation, concerning the frailty of “peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments”. “Wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”: this famous sentence assumes that the defences of peace are already sown in the minds of men, that it is sufficient to make them rise, like one “raises dough”, and the encounter between human beings, thus prepared, will be peaceful. Here there is no mention of civilisation, neither as a process, nor as a framework, but of the sovereign freedom of every human being, held as co-responsible over the fate of the world. Hope for peace is embedded in a humanist belief.
Dialogue is always interpersonal; it can take place only between each other and never between shapeless groups, or groups with hazy outlines. That complicates things a little, because it is easier to organise meetings between collective realities rather than nourish and facilitate debate among the approximately seven billion human beings who share responsibility in our days over the future of the planet, and who are the depositories of human dignity.
Then doubtless, and gradually, we shall envision what the title of this meeting invokes with its auspices: doubtless we shall see a process of civilisation in action. On the earth there are no separate civilisations, impermeable to each other, nor is there a lack of civilisation that calls for the future establishment of a duly certified “civilisation of peace”. There is only one human civilisation, which is a constantly ongoing process. We need to define what, in the current state of the world, favours, or on the contrary hinders, this ongoing process.
We are called to further it, understanding its peculiar genius, which has been, for millions of years, that of making the most of harmony among human beings, of their benign intelligence, of their progressively increasing attitude of changing and creating meaning. Cultures and religions are among of its most remarkable fruits. Science, as well as arts, languages, and lifestyles are likewise.
By feeding the ambition to make you usefully serve the potential of intelligence and influence that lies in the hands of religious and cultural realities, as well as of institutional and social instances and outstanding personalities, our meeting will necessarily be fecund, and I greet with admiration those people who during the years were able to develop the full effectiveness and potential of these major forms of human civilisation.