Peace is the name of God. So states an "Appeal for Peace" signed by scores of religious leaders at the largest annual interfaith peace gathering in the world. Co-sponsored by the Community of Sant'Egidio, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Georgetown University, and the Catholic University of America, the event involved more than 800 participants in workshops, common prayer, and a peace procession through Georgetown on April 27.
The event marked the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's convening of a smaller group of the world's religious leaders in Assisi, the city of St. Francis, to make a common religious witness for peace. A young student named Andrea Riccardi was deeply touched by the "spirit of Assisi" and vowed to continue its observance through the Community of Sant'Egidio, a lay-led ecumenical community founded after Vatican II and which now includes more than 50,000 members in 70 countries worldwide.
In his opening address, Riccardi referred to a moment, while on an AIDS-related mission to Africa, when he saw a young boy wearing a tee shirt with the image of Osama Bin Laden. "Do you know who he is?" Riccardi asked. "Someone fighting for justice," replied the boy.
"No!" thundered Riccardi not to the boy, but to the interreligious audience gathered in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University, "We people of peace must be the ones known as ones fighting for justice!" Toward that end, throughout the day on April 26, panel topics included: "To Make Poverty History: A Challenge to the World;" "Prayer as a Source for Peace;" "Religions and the Culture of Life;" "Bible, Spirituality, Humanism;" and "Religion's Contribution to Genocide Prevention."
Consistent with Sant'Egidio's annual tradition, the day ended with Prayers for Peace offered in various locations -- Jews in a synagogue, Christians in a church, Muslims in a mosque, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs in various locations. After an hour of prayer, processions were formed from the several sites, converging in the streets of Georgetown and walking together -- arm in arm -- to the outdoor setting of Healy Lawn where the "Appeal for Peace" was proclaimed and signed, candles were lighted and placed in a candelabra, and copies of the appeal presented to twenty-five children as a pledge to them of the religious leaders' commitment to a future of peace.
The Episcopal Church was represented by Bishop Christopher Epting, the Presiding Bishop's Deputy for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, and a number of lay Episcopalians who are members of the Sant'Egidio communities in Boston, Washington, South Bend, and Minneapolis.
"Ever since I was privileged to represent the Presiding Bishop and our church at the Prayer for Peace in Barcelona a number of years ago, I have been so moved by the Community of Sant'Egidio's ministries of prayer, communicating the Gospel, solidarity with the poor, and service to peace," Epting said. "I would encourage members of the Episcopal Church to learn more about these wonderful young people by visiting their website at www.santegidio.org. Or even one of their ministry sites here in the United States or around the world!"
Among its various assertions, the appeal states, "To all our fellow religious people, to every man and every woman, we want to say that those who use violence discredit their own cause. Those who believe that greater violence is the response to the wrong they have suffered do not see the mountains of hatred they help create. Peace is the name of God. God never wants the elimination of the other; the sons and daughters of our adversaries are never our enemies: they are children to love and protect, all of them."