I’m delighted to participate in the Prayers for Peace which is hosted by the Community of Sant’ Egidio. It is also such an honor for me to give a speech at the meeting in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This is my first visit to Sarajevo. I recall that in 1992 a war broke out in Bosnia, a conflict between ethnic groups and religions, and it resulted in the tragedy of ethnic cleansing. The war which lasted for three years came to an end in December, 1995 as a result of international mediation. However, it produced Bosnia and Herzegovina, a complicated establishment of one nation where two countries coexist within a national boundary. One is the republic of Bosniaks and Croats and the other is a nation of Serbians.
It is said that the Bosnian War came about because of differences between ethnic and religious groups. When we think about the fact that under the Republic of Yugoslavia, those people maintained a peaceful existence for fifty years; it seems that the cause of conflict was not due to the ethnicity or religion, but due to a nationalism that stirred up people’s dissatisfaction and discontent created by the worsening of economic situations.
The theme given to me for this speech is ‘The “Spirit of Assisi” in the East: Japanese Religions on the Path of Dialogue.’
In 1986 Prayer for World Peace was started in Assisi as a response to a call to world religious leaders by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. In order to continue that spirit, the following year, in August of 1987, we requested world religious leaders gather on the top of Mt. Hiei and we held a Religious Summit Meeting. We prayed for peace and promised to work with people for the attainment of peace. This year marks the 25th anniversary from that time. We held a commemorative event with “Raging Natural Disasters and the Role of Religious Leaders” as this year’s theme.
At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, you sent us warm, heartfelt words for the victims. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciations to all of you. Moreover, Secretary-General Professor Alberto Quattrucci and Professor Agostino Giovagnoli, Head of Department of Asian Relation, came to Japan and attended the 25th anniversary event. I’d like to express our gratitude again for their participations.
The environments of Assisi where the first Prayers for Peace was held and Mt. Hiei of Japan are very similar. First of all, they are surrounded by abundant nature. The next is that like St. Francis of Assisi who sacrificed everything and devoted himself to God, monks at Mt. Hiei value renunciation for training and practices.
People are affected by their environment. Dengyo Daishi, the founder of Tendai Buddhism in Japan, said, “For training and practices, it is important that where one’s body, heart-mind resides, must be right, but the environment is more important. Living in this mountain helps you to keep the precepts.” He meant that Mt. Hiei is the appropriate place for training practices and it assist one to keep the precepts and makes one’s heart-mind purified. I think Assisi must also be place like Mt. Hiei and that is why His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, chose this location as the first place for prayers.
Back in 2007, we invited children from the Community Garden in Bosnia to the 20th anniversary of Religious Summit Meeting on Mt. Hiei. Among them, there was a girl named Sadzida. She said, “I don’t want anyone to use guns and drugs. I do hope for a society in which everyone will be free and live happily with other people.” In spite of the differences between East and West, I believe the spirit of Assisi is to pursue what Sadzida said and make that happen.
Thank you very much for listening.