The most tragic violence today is the misuse of the term peace by people who do not really believe in it. Nevertheless, the human longing for a world-wide peaceful coexistence remains permanent. Therefore every effort of renewing the interest for peace and the deepening of its meaning is a valuable contribution in the course of humanity. Our Conference, Glory to God, belongs to this category.
It is a particular joy and honour for the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania to also be a co-organizer of this International Meeting for Peace, together with the Community of Sant’ Egidio and the Episcopal Conference of Albania. Before any other comment, we would like to express our heartfelt thanks and warm welcome to all of the distinguished participants who accepted our invitation. May “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) fill everyone’s life and may it also illuminate our souls during the deliberations of this Conference.
Albania, as is well known, faced many serious trials during the course of the 20th century, most notably a long-lasting atheistic persecution. Since 1991, however, it has embraced religious freedom and simultaneously fosters peaceful coexistence between religious communities and also those who do not belong to any religion. The painful memories from the two world wars and the bloody conflicts at the end of the 20th century in the Western Balkans, contribute to increasing the desire for peace in all its forms.
The title of the topic of our Conference, “Peace is always possible”, seems dynamic and optimistic. The news, however, which is continually transmitted by all forms of media, with its images of savage conflicts, taking place in various areas of the planet, casts a heavy shadow over our optimism for the possibility of world peace. Thus, adding to the formulation of our topic there is a question mark posed at the end: “Is peace always possible?” Within this uncertain reality, the proceedings of this International Meeting for Peace, Religions and Cultures in Dialogue will certainly result in a hopeful search, offering creative proposals on the critical issue of peace.
As a short introduction I would like to briefly stress five points:
1. For what appears impossible to become possible, namely the prevalence of world peace, religious communities play a central role. According to the aims that their followers draw from their religious convictions they can support or undermine peace, at a local or global level. Therefore, a necessary prerequisite for peace to become possible, is peace between religions.
The issue of peace between religions and dialogue and understanding is very complex and we are not advocating a type of syncretism. The true respect for the religious freedom of every person, for his or her human dignity, remains the solid foundation for peaceful coexistence. There are important elements and peaceful inspirations in the doctrinal layers of the great religions that must be carefully discovered, utilized and made productive in order for a world-wide peace to be possible. The voices for peace, which come from the lungs of the global religions, must be intensified and persistently manifested by sermons, catechism, lectures and every form of communication.
All initiatives for dialogue between religions and cultures will surely help to arrive at this aim. We are grateful to those struggling for this goal, particularly the Community of Sant’ Egidio for its systematic and inspiring efforts during recent decades.
2. Religious conscience, in its various forms, has the capability to contribute in different ways to the development of peaceful tendencies and, more generally, the fostering of peace at a local and global level.
In the majority of religious traditions we find: First, a search for inner peace. Second, we assert the curbing of aggression. The third common characteristic is the pursuit of peaceful relations with the highest Reality, understood either as impersonal or as a personal God. Fourth, principles are established by the religions to facilitate peaceful cohabitation within each particular social group. And finally, efforts extend towards the maintenance of peace beyond the particular religious community to all humanity.
The obligation falls to those of us who believe in God to investigate and advance an irenic theology and anthropology, drawing from the deep resources of our religious doctrines and the best pages of the history of our religious traditions, by emphasizing each person’s duty to oppose violence and work towards reconciliation and lasting peace on earth. The new generation in particular needs a conscious education for peace that will be nourished and inspired by religious sources.
3. The search for peace presupposes a constant defence and struggle for justice. Always throughout the span of the centuries, especially during our age, the relationship that peace has with justice is emphasized. In many religious traditions this bond is encountered. Sincere yearning for peace, at both the local and the global level, means a true desire and struggle for justice. An unjust world cannot be peaceful. Today, peace and justice have also acquired another synonym: development. And all of us can and must contribute to the development of the poorest areas. Poverty remains the worst type of violence. When people, near or far from us, are deprived of the basic needs for their survival, it is not strange that they turn to other directions and adopt extreme religious beliefs in order to achieve a just society and to discover a meaning of life and death.
More specifically, relative to the problem of terrorism, which has recently dominated, we believe that the western societies, who have economical, scientific and military power, ought to proceed to a creative self-critique. They should see their responsibility more clearly and their debt to the new global dimensions. Peace and safety, about which we are all talking, will be ensured with the care for social justice and the development of poorer societies of the planet. It would be tragic, spiritually and politically, because of indifference or arrogance, to allow a new, multiform proletariat to develop a violent revolt through the abuse of the spiritual “atomic energy” of a concrete religious tradition.
4. Something that is often ignored, while it constitutes the nucleus of peace, is that religious conscience is compelled to stress that peace begins from within, in the depth of the human existence. It is related with humility, forgiveness, freedom from hatred, from bitterness and from jealousy. It flourishes in constant communion with the God of peace. In particular, the Christian meaning of inner peace is deeper and broader than the apathy of the Stoics. It is not restricted to impassivity for what happens around us. Keeping our inner peace, we shall be able to live with others, “if possible, so far as it depends upon us, live peacefully with all” (Rom. 12:18).
5. At the final analysis, the opposite of peace is not war but egocentrism: individual, collective, ethnic, racial. Egocentrism mobilizes the various forms of violence, which kill peace through various ways. This is the inspiration and instigation of both large and small conflicts; this is what bombards human persons and communities continously with hated.
The antidote to egoism does not consist of general ethical advices, nor abstract legislations, or mechanisms of suppression; but the strengthening of love. A multi-dimensional unselfish love, which isn’t limited by borders, prejudices and every kind of distinction. The enormous possibility and contribution of a healthy religious conscience is located here. This, even in conditions of long-lasting conflicts, guarantees the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. The power of love finally prevails over the love for power which destroys peace.
I hope and pray that, through the presentations, the discussions and the general deliberation during our International Meeting for Peace, we will find invaluable material for an in-depth analysis of the critical topic of our Conference; which is to approach in an essential way the truth that peace is always possible.