Religions Are Crucial to Attaining Peace
by Christina Lee
Dedicating one's life to the cause of peace is a
commitment not to be taken lightly. It calls for courage, for knowing
how to suffer.
In today's world, scenes of terrorism and violence show no sign of
abating. Ongoing armed conflicts in various regions, known or forgotten
by public opinion, give the impression that not only cultural diversity
but also religious differences are causes of instability to the
prospect of peace. The danger of a clash between cultures and religions
is incumbent on our horizon.
The appalling scenes of conflict, however, should not distract our
attention from discerning signs of hope, characteristic of our era of
globalization. Numerous are the initiatives of people and institutions
aiming at building common foundations for harmonious coexistence.
Interfaith and intercultural dialogues are emerging as important roads
to this end.
The peace to which we are committed is not merely the silence of arms.
It cannot be attained only from the outside with structures. The
attempt to restore it with violence leads to new violence and creates
fear among populations. It must be approached from a global and
far-sighted perspective. Pope Benedict XVI, in his message on the
occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Interreligious Meeting of
Prayer for Peace in Assisi, affirms: "To build it, the paths of
cultural, political, and economic order are, of course, important, but
first of all peace must be built in hearts. It is here, in fact, that sentiments develop that can nurture it or, on the contrary, threaten, weaken, and stifle it."
What is needed to nourish peace, then, is the conversion of the heart.
The motto that President Nichiko Niwano launched among the members of
Rissho Kosei-kai, "Cultivating the field of the heart and mind," could
be grasped, I think, in this context. Peace cannot exist if hatred and
selfishness are not overcome from within. To meet this fundamental
challenge, the role of religions is crucial. Religions should draw, out
of their depths, all the spiritual strength so as to lead humanity
toward solidarity and peace. By whom, if not by leaders within the
great religious traditions, could a strategy be initiated that is
capable of renewing relationships not only on an individual level, but
also between people of different races, nations, and cultures?
But there can be no peace without treating each other as brothers and
sisters. This vision of fraternity is not a new idea that has emerged
today. It has been often present in the minds of great spiritual
figures of the world.
Mahatma Gandhi was a great advocate of "one humanity in one world." He
wrote: "Through the realization of the freedom of India, I hope to
realize and carry on the mission of the brotherhood of man."
Martin Luther King Jr., in his "I Have a Dream" speech, cried out his
hope that one day "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former
slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of
And the Dalai Lama says that we need "to achieve a true sense of
brotherhood, a good heart, respect for others. If we can develop these
qualities from within our heart, then . . . we can actually achieve
Rev. Nikkyo Niwano was deeply convinced that all religions should work
together hand-in-hand for peace and spared no effort to create the
"world of the One Vehicle" according to the Buddhist concept taken from
the Lotus Sutra.
The Focolare Movement is committed to building the unity of the human
family, enriched by diversity. Chiara Lubich, its founder, reminds us
that Jesus brought this truth as an essential gift to humanity. Before
he died, he prayed for unity, which was his testament: "Father, may
they all be one" (Jn 17:21). He revealed to us that God is our Father
and, consequently, that we are all brothers and sisters. But what is
the bond of fraternity?
We need to remember that there is something stronger than death and
violence. There is a potential that is waiting to be reawakened. It is
a love that abides deep in the heart of everyone.
For Christians, this love can be a participation in the very love that
is the life of God. For those who follow other religions, this love is
often called benevolence or compassion. For people who do not have a
religious faith, love can mean philanthropy, solidarity, nonviolence.
It is an art that is sorely needed in our modern time. The Focolare
Movement has sixty years of experience practicing it. Chiara Lubich
summed up the "art of loving" in four points, which can be fully shared
with followers of different religions.
First of all, it requires that we love everyone, making no distinction
between people who are pleasant or unpleasant, attractive or
unattractive, European or Asian, Christian or Muslim. Love knows no
form of discrimination.
For a Christian, moreover, everyone must be loved because it is Christ
whom we love in each person. He himself will one day say to us: "You
did it to me" (Mt 25:40).
And what should we say of the boundless compassion for every living
being taught by the Buddha to his first disciples: "O Monks, you should
work for the well-being of many, for the happiness of many, moved by
compassion for the world, for the well-being . . . of humanity"
This love has another characteristic that is affirmed in the sacred
books of world religions. It is the Golden Rule. Christians have it in
this way: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt
7:12), and Buddhists teach: "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself
would find hurtful" (Udanavarga, 5.1).
If this point alone were practiced, it would be enough to make the
whole world one family. Just think what the world would be like if not
only individuals, but also ethnic groups and nation-states were to
practice it--for example, "Love the other country as your own."
The third step in the art of loving is perhaps the most demanding of
all. It tests the authenticity and purity of love, and, therefore, its
real capacity to generate peace. It is to be first in loving, that is,
not waiting for the other person to take the first step, to take the
There is one last point that teaches us how to put into practice true
love toward others. It consists of making ourselves one with others,
which is emptying ourselves. It means making their worries, their
thoughts, their joys, our own. All this is not just kindness and
understanding; it is not just a method to promote interpersonal
relationships, or a strategy for consensus building or for selling
one's agenda. Love has only one goal: to give of itself completely and
When two or more people are ready to make the first move toward the
other, then, love becomes mutual. It will be our strength because even
when we are far from one an-other, we will be certain to be united. And
what we accomplish will be not so much the result of individual efforts
as the expression of a bond that will be a source of light for us even
at a distance, helping us to understand what we need to do and giving
us new strength to fulfill it. Only our mutual love will be able to
unleash this wisdom and the power needed to change the world and win
the battle for peace.
This is because unity is not the sum of a number of people, nor is it
just solidarity, collaboration, and dialogue. No, to build unity means
to come together, in mutual love, and to allow the presence of Someone
who transcends us to shine forth. In the Christian liturgy we sing:
"Where there is charity and love, there God abides." The Gospel
announces that if two or more are united in genuine love, Christ
himself, who is Peace, is present among them and therefore in each one
of them (cf. Mt 18:20). In the history of the Focolare Movement,
maintaining this presence has become the apex of its spirituality and
Pope John Paul II, meeting non-Christian representatives in Madras,
India, in 1986, said that when we open ourselves in dialogue to one
another, that is, when our dialogue is substantiated by kindness,
mutual esteem and respect, we also open ourselves up to God. And "we
let God be present in our midst."
A great Japanese Buddhist personality, now deceased, Ven. Etai Yamada,
loved to say to us: "If we are one in heart, then God is with us and
guides us in doing his will."
This is a new presence of God that encourages tolerance, understanding,
and forgiveness. It penetrates into the hearts of everyone and
enkindles those flames of love that join men and women in communion.
Mutual love and unity thus give great joy to those who practice it.
However, it calls for commitment, daily training, and sacrifice. And
this is where a particular word in the language of Christians appears
striking and luminous. It is one that the world wants to avoid, a word
it considers foolish and useless. This word is "Cross."
Nothing good and fruitful can be achieved without facing weariness and
suffering. Dedicating one's life to the cause of peace is a commitment
not to be taken lightly. It calls for courage, for knowing how to
In this regard, there is an important aspect to keep in mind if we want
to be instruments of peace, and that is self-examination. We should
constantly, every moment, check our attitude toward others and see if
everything has been done out of love. If not, we should have the
courage to start over and over again, and ask forgiveness when
An experience at the beginning of the Focolare Movement can still be
useful for us in order to help us keep reciprocal love alive. It was
not easy for the first group of young women to always follow this new
style of life in a radical way. They were ordinary people just like
others. Dust could settle on their relationship and weaken their unity.
This happened when one saw the shortcomings and imperfections of
others, cooling down the current of mutual love. In order to react to
this situation, Chiara Lubich and her companions made a "pact of
mercy." They decided to get up in the morning and approach each
person--in the family, at school, at work--with completely new eyes,
without remembering any faults of the past, as though he or she had
never made any mistakes, but covering everything with love: to approach
each person with full "amnesty" in their hearts. Later she commented
that without this pact of daily forgiveness, the movement would not
have even come out of the city of Trent, from where it started and then
spread all over the world.
The commitment to love opens the way to forgiveness and reconciliation.
In the course of history, differing convictions have caused violent
clashes, social and political conflicts, and even religious wars. Where
the Catholic Church herself is concerned, she asked for forgiveness
insofar as serious mistakes were made in the past by some of her
members and by her institutions. We remember Pope John Paul II offering
an apology for the sins committed in the name of the church through the
ages. He declared at a Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica on March 12,
2000: "In this year of mercy, the Church . . . should kneel before God
and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and
daughters. . . . Let us forgive and ask forgiveness!"
Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness are indispensable
elements for peace. In this way, our memory is purified and our hearts
are made serene. In order to establish bonds of fraternity the tensions
of the past must be purified promoting reconciliation at all levels,
individual as well as collective.
In the words of Chiara Lubich, "the world needs an invasion of love and
this depends on each one of us. The human being is the reservoir of
this precious element." In the end, love will win.
Christina Lee is currently engaged in interreligious
dialogue as vice director at the International Headquarters of the
Focolare Movement near Rome. In particular she is in charge of dialogue
with Buddhists and members of other Oriental religions. She is also a
member of the General Council of the Focolare Movement.
This article was originally published in the April-June 2007 issue of Dharma World.
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