Interfaith Peacemaking

John Gill Features

The article below is the eighth in a series from friars and Partners in Ministry (PIMs) from the Province and the JPIC directorate who are sharing reflections on Franciscan peacemaking. Their observations are based on experiences as well as on how an aspect of history speaks to them.

PHILADELPHIA, Pa.,— An important aspect of Franciscan Peacemaking is engaging in dialogue and having some common experiences with people from various religious traditions. In the last few years, I had two experiences that taught me a great deal about the value of peace and nonviolence among people from different faith traditions.

A few years ago, I participated in an event sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation that brought together various religious leaders to reflect on different aspects of peacemaking. The people that participated in this event were Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Native Americans, Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics and Mennonites.

As peace activists from various religious traditions we discovered in our sharing that we do have our differences but what we share most in common is a real desire for peace. Muslims explained that “Islam” means peace, that they are required to live at peace with others. Buddhists spoke of the way of compassion and respect toward all living beings. Jews spoke of the vision of shalom, and Isaiah’s call that we “beat swords into plowshares” and study war no more.” We Christians spoke about the way Jesus has called us to love our enemies, and he blessed peacemakers.

In 2004, Philadelphia experienced a large Interfaith Peace Walk. This was not a march or protest but a pilgrimage of prayer. Muslims, Jews, Christians and Buddhists were part of the 500 who walked three miles in the heart of Philadelphia to promote peace and reconciliation between people of all faiths. The Peace Walk began with a few inspirational speeches by representatives of the different faith groups. Their speeches rang out words of endearment, and hope. They spoke about justice and freedom for all people. They told us to live in peace and harmony, the way God intended for us all. We took to the streets carrying signs that read “peace, salaam, shalom”. There were placards written in different languages of “peace” The experience entailed walking, singing, and visiting places of worship.

What these two experiences have taught me the most is that at the heart of each major religion is the vision of peace, the ideal of reconciled humanity, the way of compassion of love and justice. However, that is not most people’s experience because we live in a world today that thrives on religious bigotry and misconceptions.

As Franciscans, we can show to the world that peace will be accomplished by putting aside differences, and reaching for our commonly-shared values.

   Br. John is a team member of St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia and serves as director of the Urban Center. He is a member of the JPIC Directorate of the Province.