Around 400 international participants representing diverse religious traditions at the Sant’Egidio community's 28th International Meeting of People and Religions in Antwerp, Belgium, focused on the theme “Peace is the Future”. The meeting featured dialogue, prayers and reflections on cultures and religions, including on 9 September an address from the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.
Inspired by the first Assisi ecumenical meeting in 1986 held under the Pontificate of Saint John Paul II, the meeting aimed to affirm the spirit of the first encounter. The meeting marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.
Sant’Egidio is a Catholic-based, Christian public lay association for prayer, dialogue and social action that was founded in 1968.
Sharing his reflections on “walking together in love and hope”, based on Romans 8:35-37, Tveit said, “Today we commemorate how war separates humanity, in the fields of this land, in this continent, affecting many parts of the world.”
“Millions died, millions were separated from their dear ones through hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword - and other weapons. Human beings, soldiers and others, suffered - as people always and everywhere do when war becomes a reality. Many became victims of genocide,” he added.
Tveit said that today “we share a deep concern over violence, terror and war in other parts of the world - and even in this continent. We are learning how people who lived together in one city or one country are forcefully separated, driven to flee their homes and their neighbours. Some are persecuted for their faith; some even forced to be separated from their faith.”
“Separation and war breed on each other. The power of sin, violence and death divide and separate us as human beings created by the God of life to share fellowship with one another. We are called to participate in this life together, in the values of the Kingdom of God. We are called to show that nothing can separate us from the love of God. God loves even his enemies. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:8),” Tveit concluded.
Reflections, celebrations and prayers
The final day of the meeting in Antwerp saw peace celebrations from the perspectives of different religions. The ecumenical prayer service, which took place in the Cathedral of Antwerp, featured meditations from Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and supreme head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, Louis Raphael Sak, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, along with the WCC general secretary.
During a plenary session at the conference, Patriarch Aphrem, said, “The gravity of what is happening in the world in general and in the Middle East in particular surpasses everything we have seen in the past. History does not even have an appropriate vocabulary to describe precisely what we are witnessing”. He recalled recent visits by himself and other Eastern patriarchs to the Christian communities in Iraq (Nineveh and Mosul), Lebanon and Syria, where he said violence, sectarianism, ethnic and religious cleansing are causing humanitarian tragedies.
“The hope of finding a solution for the martyred Middle East does exist but it will require all men and women of good will to join voices to awaken governments and international consensus so that peace may become a ‘global commitment’,” Patriarch Aphrem said.
In a message sent to the Sant’Egidio meeting, Pope Francis said, “This anniversary can teach us that war is never a satisfactory means of redressing injustice and achieving balanced solutions to political and social discord.”
In his reflections, Egypt's Grand Mufti Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim said, “Islam is a religion of dialogue and it represents a world that is open and never tries to erect barriers between Muslims and others.”
Among other participants of the meeting were Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, Antonio Tajani, vice president of the European Parliament, Vian Dakheel from the Yazidi community in northern Iraq and a member of Iraq's parliament, Cardinal Paul Poupard, Bishop Ambrogio Spreafico, the Argentinian rabbi Abraham Skorka and Rabbi David Rosen. Other attendees included representatives from Jewish and oriental religious traditions, as well participants from Pakistan, Tunisia, Lebanon, and other African and Asian countries.
Among the participants were also the WCC president for Europe, Rev. Dr Anders Wejryd, Archbishop emeritus Church of Sweden and other members of the WCC governing bodies H. E. Metropolitan Dr Vasilios of Constantia – Ammochostos, Church of Cyprus, H. E. Metropolitan Seraphim Kykkotis, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa and the Archbishop Dr Joris Vercammen, Old-Catholic Church in the Netherlands.