There can be no ‘holy war’, only peace can be holy,” pronounced Pope Francis last week as thousands gathered in Assisi to observe the 30th anniversary of the inter-religious Prayer for Peace, first convened by late Pope, now Saint, John Paul II in 1986. A question can easily arise in one’s mind if such inter-religious prayers for peace where leaders of different religions gather to pray for peace are of any use, since we witness only escalation of armed conflicts and more violence in the world everyday? Does God care for such prayers and for people involved in such efforts? If he did care, could he not, being all powerful and mighty, put an instant end to violence which, kills hundreds of children, makes thousands homeless, amputates others for the rest of their lives and causes untold sufferings? Such questions are not new and are often thrown by non-believers at those who stubbornly go ahead with peace and friendship initiatives.
On the other hand, believers like me who joined the “Community of St. Egidio” — the organisers of this Prayer for Peace at Assisi along with millions others who joined us on September 20 from the world over, are people who firmly believe that the evil of violence can be overcome. We propagate that basic goodness with which all human beings are endowed can ultimately win peace. Such conviction comes from Jesus’ teachings and which deeply inspired Mahatma Gandhi, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”
No wonder then that St. Francis, from the ancient town of Assisi, where he lived in total peace with all, including nature and all its creatures, wrote that beautiful hymn, Make me a channel of your peace; where there is hatred let me bring your love, where there is injury, pardon Lord… Though written in 13th century, even today, no one can come away from Assisi without experiencing serenity and peace that fills its air.
To the sceptics who question the usefulness of such “Prayers for Peace” and those of us impatient with God to answer our humble prayers, the words of St. Francis, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle,” can help overcome our doubts. I am convinced that the majority in the world do, “thirst for peace”, though they may not always know how to work towards it, specially those misguided individuals who think that peace can be achieved through “holy war”. May the words of Pope Francis in Assisi reach them, “We never tire of repeating that the name of God cannot be used to justify violence.” And finally, we would all do well if we emulated St. Francis’ advice, “We should seek not so much to pray but to become ourselves prayer.”...