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Andrea Riccardi

Historian, Founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio

Your Holinesses,
Mr. President of the Republic,
Distinguished leaders of world religions,

This long-planned meeting of prayer and dialogue for peace has been reduced to its essential form for the present difficult moment. I am very grateful to the President of the Republic who wanted to participate in it. I thank all those who have traveled to be present here, like Patriarch Bartholomew and others. 

Today, the religious communities have prayed side by side and now they are addressing -through some representatives- a message of peace. The great watershed of the Meeting of Assisi, wanted by John Paul II in 1986, for which we speak of "spirit of Assisi", was that religions did not continue to live nor to pray one against the other as in the long times of extraneousness or hatred. Today they pray side by side. Then, John Paul II said: "Peace awaits its prophets. Together we have filled our eyes with visions of peace: they release energies for a new language of peace, new gestures of peace, which will break the fatal chains of divisions inherited from history or generated by modern ideologies".

In the almost thirty-five years that have intervened, creative and liberating energies of peace have been unleashed. Unfortunately, some situations of coexistence have deteriorated and new wars have broken out. However, we must recognize that new peace has also been possible (because peace is always possible) and a climate of dialogue and fraternity has been established between religions. Religions have responded with firm clarity to the exploitation of religion for the purposes of violence. 

We have prayed side by side, because prayer is the root of peace, which purifies the heart from hatred and asks God for an end to every war. Representatives of different religions appear on the stage together, like a rainbow of peace: their diversity does not prevent the same fraternal and peaceful feeling, on the contrary it shows in the difference a full sharing of a vision of peace. It would not have been possible not so long ago. 

From common prayer, the word gushes forth. The world is thirsty for true words that enlighten the future, which is so uncertain. In many countries, it is a critical moment in which we cannot remain silent. We must give voice and solidarity to the people impoverished by the pandemic, to those who have suffered for too long, to those who suffer from wars that are still ongoing, almost all forgotten because today we are mainly focused on our diseases or our problems. Believers welcome the cries of pain of the people who suffer in prayer as they manifest the need for a new vision of the future. Yesterday's visions are lost while there are so many anxieties about tomorrow. 

Pope Francis, to whom I am grateful for the guiding word, in Fratelli Tutti, invited everyone to seek the future in the light of the fraternity: "Alone," he wrote, "you risk having mirages, so you see what is not there; dreams are built together. How many mirages we have been chasing! Then they were broken: the myth of the economy that solves everything providentially, the myth of the strong man, the illusion of imposing one's own causes with violence or war and much more. 

Mirages turn into nightmares, the worst of which is certainly war, dominating entire countries in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. War is the mother of all poverty. The fruits of which are also the refugees who knock on our doors. Even the dream of the richest and strongest, alone, turns into a nightmare and sometimes not only for himself.

Believers and leaders of religions have prayed together tonight. Now we will listen to their voices. The message that religions manifest, by coming together here, is that we are not saved alone, on our own, against others. This is true for Europe. It applies to every continent. It also applies to individual citizens. Religious traditions convey a message with the same sound: peace means building together in dialogue, without excluding or prevaricating the other. Religions live by dialogue, because their first work is prayer which is dialogue with God, as Paul VI said.

Not saving ourselves alone opens the way to shared visions and a dream about humanity. Pope Francis wrote: "We dream as one humanity, as wayfarers made of the same human flesh, as children of this same earth that is home to us all...". So believers dream. They help those in need to dream of liberation from poverty. The Sick. the victims of war, starting with children. The refugees. In fact, as Paul Ricoeur affirms: "religions have a meaning: to liberate the basis of goodness of humanity, to seek it where it is hidden.