Michael Fitzgerlad


Peace in the World: The Contribution of Interreligious Relations

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, M.Afr.
February 28, 2005 at Georgetown University

It is a great honor for me to me to address you this evening at this prestigious university, and I wish to thank President DiGioia for his gracious invitation. I wish also to express my appreciation for the initiative taken by Georgetown University, in instituting the Pacem in Terris lectures, to keep alive the teaching and spirit of Blessed John XXIII's seminal encyclical.

The doctrine of this letter is so rich that it can give rise to reflections in many different directions. I wish to take as a starting point not the encyclical itself but a passage from the letter of John Paul II, Pacem in Terris: A Permanent Commitment, commemorating its fortieth anniversary. The passage reads:

"With the profound intuition that characterized him, John XXIII identified the essential conditions for peace in four precise requirements of the human spirit: truth, justice, love and freedom?..(H)e was convinced that, despite the dramatic situation, the world was becoming increasingly conscious of certain spiritual values, and increasingly open to the meaning of those pillars of peace" [1]

John XXIII does not appear himself to have used the expression pillars of peace, but he does bring together these four requirements. He speaks of the order which prevails in human society:

Its foundation is truth, and it must be brought into effect by justice. It needs to be animated and perfected by men's love for one another, and, while preserving freedom intact, it must make for an equilibrium in society which is increasingly more human in character. (37, see also 45,163, 167).

My purpose in this talk is to examine these four pillars and see how interreligious dialogue can help to develop or consolidate them, and thus contribute to peace in the world.


There is a danger that interreligious dialogue may fall at the first pillar, for there can be a wrong conception of what is meant by truth. One of the obstacles to dialogue is self-sufficiency, which leads to a lack of openness to others. If one party declares that it has the truth, and that all others are in error and are therefore not worthy of consideration, no relationship can be possible. This is a temptation besetting Christians in particular who will often quote to uphold their position the words of Jesus: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6), yet others too can adopt an exclusive position.

How can this difficulty be overcome? It is good first of all to call to mind the distinction made by John XXIII in Pacem in Terris between error as such and the person who falls into error. Even if we are convinced that truth is on our side, and that others "err regarding the truth or are led astray as a result of their inadequate knowledge, in matters either of religion or of the highest ethical standards", these others never forfeit their personal dignity (cf. 158). They are therefore always to be treated with respect. Moreover we, as Christians, must remember that

"the fullness of truth received in Jesus Christ does not give individual Christians the guarantee that they have grasped the truth fully. In the last analysis truth is not a thing we possess, but a Person by whom we must allow ourselves to be possessed" [2]

Dialogue can help us on the way to Truth which is always before us.

Here, in passing, I think it is necessary to make a distinction between strictly ecumenical dialogue, that is dialogue among Christians of different denominations, and interreligious dialogue. The former, when it is a question of religious truth, aims at a common expression of the Christian faith signifying a communion in belief as a foundation for communion in practice. People belonging to different religions cannot hope to achieve such a communion in belief -- the differences are far too fundamental -- so all that can be expected from dialogue is a clarification of these differences. This is surely not to be despised, for when we understand the other's position more fully we can speak the truth in love. In other words, we are not satisfied with half-truths, with approximations which can lead to false accusations, but rather we treat our partners in dialogue with due respect.

One of the tasks of dialogue is to overcome prejudice. This task was taken up by the Secretariat for Non Christians (now the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue) right from the beginning of its existence. This can be seen in the guidelines for dialogue that were produced in the late-Sixties. Let me take as an example the Guidelines for Dialogue between Christians and Muslims.[3]  Considerable space is given to a refutation of the accusations laid at the door of Islam, that it is fatalistic, legalistic, morally lax, fanatical, opposed to change, and that it is a religion of fear. Today one would have to add the accusation that Islam is equivalent to terrorism. A group of American Christians and Muslims who have been in dialogue on the West Coast of the US, at their third meeting which took place after the events of 9/11, shared their experience of "horror, shock, outrage, sorrow, fear and powerlessness". Their joint report states that "Our Muslim friends felt an extra measure of pain because these terrible acts, which clearly violated their faith, were strongly associated with Islam. The partners in dialogue agreed "that accurate introductory information is a first step for overcoming false ideas and negative views of one another and for breaking down barriers to understanding." They noted the fatigue of responding to "false accusations and random placements of blame", the frustration when encountering bias, yet they also acknowledged their need to confront their own prejudices.[4]

It is worth continuing to quote this report, since it underlines an essential condition for fruitful dialogue: "We each enter into dialogue accepting one another equally as spiritual companions on the journey to God although this does not mean that we value all ideas about God identically." Dialogue is not just laissez-faire; it is more than mere tolerance. It includes a willingness to be open to the other, as a form of openness to God, allowing oneself to be challenged and changed. So the participants in the West Coast dialogue continue:

We may disagree on certain points of doctrine, even as we respect the others' rights to a fundamental integrity of their teachings and affirm all their human and religious rights. With love and in the pursuit of truth, we will offer our criticisms of one another when we believe there is a violation of integrity of faith in God. We must avoid demonizing one another and misrepresenting one another's teachings and traditions.[5]

Misrepresentation is, unfortunately, a fairly frequent fault of the mass media, sometimes due to the pressure under which journalists have to work. There is an ample field here for interreligious cooperation. The way the media report religious news was the focus of one of the dialogues organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Islamic Call Society, an international organization which has its headquarters in Tripoli, Libya. This was followed by a workshop for a small group of Catholic and Muslim journalists. The Interreligious Assembly, held in the Vatican on the eve of the Holy Year, also addressed this question under the heading of education. The Message of the participants stated that "education implies using all means, including the mass media, to impart objective information about each other's religious tradition."[6] The final report of the same assembly, while noting that education "is committed to seeking truth, justice, peace and reconciliation", went into further detail suggesting some practical steps, such as the joint examination of text books, not only as regards religion, but also for other subjects, and particularly history. According to the report:

"The lamentable ignorance and misinformation with which we sometimes bring up our children concerning other people's religious traditions needs to be rectified. This underlines the need for religious traditions to speak for themselves. We must strive to present all religious traditions in an objective manner so that individuals belonging to these traditions can recognize themselves in that representation."[7]

Another aspect of truth is sincerity, something essential for mutual confidence and fruitful dialogue. Where there is no real trust, because of a suspicion of lack of sincerity, dialogue becomes impossible. This is true in relations between husband and wife, or parents and children, or between friends, but it also holds good for political negotiations. A climate of trust has to be created, even if only through a coincidence of self-interest, which can lead to a common commitment. Could an example of this be seen in the relations of Native Americans to the State, where the claim to ancestral lands is not pushed as long as that claim is recognized as legitimate? What interreligious dialogue can do is help to create such a climate of trust, not only among the negotiators but also among the people they represent, so that solutions, which nearly always entail compromises, may become acceptable.


"Justice will build peace if in practice everyone respects the rights of others and actually fulfils his duties towards them." So John Paul II summarizes the teaching of Pacem in Terris.[8] The encyclical lists many rights, starting from the right to live, then moving to rights concerning moral and cultural values, the right to act according to one's own conscience, economic rights, including the right to emigrate and immigrate, as also political rights. Yet the corresponding duties are also emphasized.

It is obvious that interreligious dialogue can contribute to the appreciation of these rights and the fulfillment of these duties. There have been joint efforts to uphold moral values, such as the collaboration between the Holy See and various majority Muslim countries, at the UN conference on population and development, held in Cairo, 1994, to oppose abortion as a means to population control, to maintain the traditional concept of marriage and the family, and to uphold the rights of parents. Where human life itself is threatened, whether at its very beginning or at its natural end, we see people of different religious traditions coming together in its defense. A number of the dialogues in which the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has been engaged have examined or touched upon different aspects of human rights. There was a multilateral colloquium on marriage and the family in the modern world. There have been bilateral dialogues with Muslims on the rights of children, and on the use of the earth's resources. There has been an international seminar on migrants and refugees jointly organized by Christian and Muslim bodies.

There can be interreligious cooperation in opposing legislation which is deemed to be unjust. In Pakistan, for instance, Muslims joined Christians in protesting against the introduction of the mention of religion on identity cards. They have also backed Christians in the call for modification of the blasphemy laws that obtain in that country and which often give rise to abuse. Such joint action has been made possible by the fellowship that has developed through the Pakistan Association for Inter-Religious Dialogue. Yet it is not only overtly religious bodies that can encourage joint action on the part of people of different religions. Amnesty International is a movement open to all, and ready to act on behalf of all, including those who are suffering on account of their religious beliefs. Similarly a movement like SOS-Racisme in France has brought people of different religious convictions together in the fight against racial discrimination.

It can be said that the lack of justice, in individual, social and international relations, is a cause of much unrest in our world today, unrest which often breaks out into violent conflict. There are some who tend to blame religion for conflict so that, as the slogan goes, "there can be no peace in the world without peace among the religions". This view is misleading, and even unjust, if it is construed as meaning that all the ills of society and all conflicts owe their origins to religion. Conflicts, in fact, usually have other causes, economic, social and political. Yet there is a grain of truth in this saying, for religious differences can indeed contribute to the building up of tension and can make opposition between opposing factions more entrenched. This means that in times of violence joint interreligious action can be extremely significant. The destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India, provoked grave clashes between Hindus and Muslims. In Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, one of the chiefs of police, a Hindu, invited a Catholic priest to accompany him in visiting the quarters of the city most likely to erupt, in order to calm the population. This was possible because the two men already had a good rapport, developed through the activities of the Catholic dialogue center. Similarly in Mumbai (at that time still known as Bombay), where the rioting was extremely serious with the loss of many lives and much material damage, one quarter of the city was hardly affected at all. The reason for this is that in that particular area considerable efforts had been made to build up good relations between people of different religions.

Religious leaders can work together to create the conditions for bringing about peaceful solutions to ongoing conflicts. I should like to refer here to the initiative of Lord George Carey, the then Archbishop of Canterbury. Under the joint patronage of Dr Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi, Sheikh al-Azhar, he was able to get Israeli and Palestinian political and religious leaders, Jews, Christians and Muslims, to meet in Alexandria. In January 2002. The declaration issued at the end of the meeting included the following article: "We seek to help to create an atmosphere where present and future generations will co-exist with mutual respect and trust in the other. We call on all to refrain from incitement and demonization, and to educate our future generations accordingly." They pledged themselves to continue the "Alexandrian Process".[9] Mention could be made also of the Bishops'-"Ulama" movement in the island of Mindanao, Philippines, where conflict has been going on for many decades. These leaders have been meeting regularly, sometimes three or four times a year, and this has strengthened mutual confidence. At the international meeting of Bishops and "Ulama" in Manila, in August 2003, encouragement was given to other countries to build up a similar movement. On this occasion the representative of the Government of the Philippines exhorted the religious leaders of Mindanao to give their moral backing to the Government's projects for development in the area as a way to greater peace in the island. The leaders themselves felt the need to bring their own understanding down to the local level, by encouraging meetings of priests, pastors and imams. 

The tragic events of 9/11 have emphasized the need for greater collaboration among religious leaders, and more specifically between Christians and Muslims. Such collaboration already exists, as can be seen from the joint statements issued after these events. In this country a statement was published signed by Bishop Tod Brown, of Orange, California, on behalf of the Catholic Bishops, and by five Muslim leaders representing different Islamic organizations. The two committees in which the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is engaged, the Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee, and the committee set up with al-Azhar, both issued brief declarations. All these statements contained an unequivocal condemnation of terrorism and called for common action by religious leaders. It is only right to recall the common commitments taken by representatives of different religions who gathered around Pope John Paul II, in Assisi, on 24 January 2002. they included the following:

We commit ourselves to proclaiming our firm conviction that violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion, and, as we condemn every recourse to violence and war in the name of God or of religion, we commit ourselves to doing everything possible to eliminate the root causes of terrorism.

We commit ourselves to educating people to mutual respect and esteem, in order to bring about a peaceful and fraternal co-existence between people of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.

We commit ourselves to fostering the culture of dialogue, so that there will be an increase of understanding and mutual trust between individuals and among people, for these are the premises of authentic peace.

We commit ourselves to frank and patient dialogue, refusing to consider our differences as an insurmountable barrier, but recognizing instead that to encounter the diversity of others can become an opportunity for greater reciprocal understanding.[10]

Of course there is a need for such resolutions to be put into effect. This has to be done, and is being done to a certain degree, at the local level. Nevertheless there is still room for greater progress.


Justice is a condition for peace, but it is insufficient. There can be the temptation to remain solely at the level of justice, making an absolute of demands for rights to be recognized and fulfilled. In the process there may be an infringement of the rights of others. So justice has to be tempered by love. It could be said that love functions as a cement for society, or as mortar between the bricks of individual and collective rights.  There can be many expressions of this love. Only two will be considered here.

The first of these takes the form of solidarity. It is based on the recognition that we all belong to one human family. Because of this we can see our fellow human beings as brothers and sisters, despite differences of color or creed. It was this conviction that led Pope John Paul II to stress fraternity in addressing Muslims. To representatives of Muslims of the Philippines he said:

I deliberately address you as brothers: that is certainly what we are, because we are members of the same human family, whose efforts, whether people realize it or not, tend toward God and the truth that comes from him. But we are especially brothers in God, who created us and whom we are trying to reach, in our own ways, through faith, prayer and worship, through the keeping of his law and through submission to his designs.[11]

The document Nostra Aetate had connected this idea with the paternity of God, stating:

We cannot truly pray to God the Father of all if we treat any people in other than brotherly fashion, for all men are created in God's image. Man's relation to God and man's relation to his fellow men are so dependent on each other that the Scripture says "he who does not love, does not know God" (1 Jn 4:8) (NA 5).

This is a very Christian approach but it can be shared by others. Jews, I think, would have no difficulty with this statement, particularly as it is taken as the basis for condemning discrimination. The text puts this very strongly:

Therefore, the Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, color, condition in life or religion (ibid.).

Muslims could object to the name of Father given to God, but they accept the idea of human dignity rooted in being God's creation. Buddhists would not want to speak of God, but they could accept the idea of the human family as part of the interdependence of all things. The common commitment in solidarity can be strengthened by sharing these religious motivations.

Love gives the capacity for empathy, sharing in both the joys and sorrows of others. The ready international response to the disasters caused by the tsunami is an expression of the sense that we belong to one human family. Yet tensions have been noted. Some opposition was expressed in Aceh, Indonesia, with regard to accepting aid from Christian organizations. This opposition was motivated by a fear that such aid was being used as a tool for converting people to Christianity. It is good to learn that a Christian organization, "Keep Kids off the Street", has been able to agree with the large Indonesian Islamic organization, Muhammadiyya, to build a home in Aceh for orphans. This only goes to show the need for transparency in humanitarian work, and the usefulness of dialogue. The problems of this world are so great that the efforts of all are required to solve them. This means that religious forces should work together, but for this to happen confidence needs to be established and maintained, and this cannot come about without dialogue. It is necessary to decide together what is to be done, what means are going to be used to achieve the goal set, and to apportion clearly the responsibilities, including financial responsibility. This "dialogue of action" is the way forward taken by the Catholic body, Carits Internationalis, with an Islamic humanitarian organization, Islamic Relief.

The multi-religious organization, the World Conference: Religions for Peace (WCRP), has been active in bringing persons of different religions together to tackle current problems. A number of interreligious councils have been set up to monitor local situations. In Uganda, for instance, the interreligious council set up by WCRP has been encouraging the common commitment of religious bodies to combat the scourge of AIDS. Others too have been active in promoting interreligious cooperation. The Lutheran World Federation is holding this year its second Summit of religious leaders of Africa. The World Islamic Call Society, already mentioned, will be present at this summit and is looking to coordinate its efforts with representatives of the Catholic church.

Many other initiatives could be mentioned. It can surely be said that they all contribute to tending humanity's wounds, and therefore to creating a world which is healthier and more peaceful. Yet conflicts still rage, calling out for resolution. A second expression of love will be needed here, namely forgiveness. When injury is done there is a temptation for the injured party to strike back, but retaliation only perpetuates the cycle of violence. That is why Pope John Paul II, in his letter for the Day of Peace 2002, stated that there can be peace without justice, and no justice without forgiveness. An earlier message, that of 1997, had been entitled Offer Pardon and Receive Peace. Peace is not possible unless pardon is both given and received, for without it the wounds of past wrongs only fester, to break out again in violent reactions. To the representatives of different religions gathered in Assisi on January 24, 2002, John Paul II shared once more this deep conviction. While acknowledging that "situations of oppression and exclusion are often at the source of violence and terrorism", he went on to stress the need for forgiveness, "because human justice is subject to frailty and to the pressures of individual and group egoism."  He went on: "Forgiveness alone heals the wounds of the heart and fully restores damaged human relations."[12] It is love, making allowances for human frailty, which gives the ability to forgive, and this forgiveness is essential to the restoration of peace, for it opens up the possibility of beginning again, of making a new start, on a renewed basis, in a restored relationship.

Can any examples be given of interreligious cooperation in this field? I have met, in Kaduna, a city of Northern Nigeria which has seen grave clashes between Christians and Muslims, members of both these communities who are working together to resolve the tensions. Not only are they active themselves, but they are handing on the skills of conflict resolution to younger members of their communities. A former functionary in the Council of Europe has set up the International Communication and Leadership School. This body has organized workshops for young people of different religions in areas where conflicts have taken place, for example in the cities of Bradford and Leicester in the U.K., in Indonesia and in Pakistan. Friendships are made as skills are learnt. Emulation is in fact an important element in interreligious dialogue, as it is in ecumenical dialogue. The Government of Kazakhstan organized an interreligious meeting for peace in Astana, the capital, in September 2003. One of the persons present was Dr Somaiya, the founder of a Hindu university in Mumbai. He was so impressed by the atmosphere of the meeting in Astana that he has now just recently organized a meeting, in Mumbai, of Christians, Hindus and Muslims. When one realizes the communal conflict that is continually breaking out in India, particularly between Hindus and Muslims, such an initiative can truly be considered a contribution to peace.


Freedom is essential to peace for it allows people to act responsibly. A solution that is imposed from above, and not accepted willingly, will not last. This is why it is important that peace processes not be confined only to select negotiators; the process needs to be shared with the populations involved in the conflict.

Pacem in Terris, after having mentioned first the right to life and all the means necessary to sustain life, moves on to freedom. Here is the key passage:

Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and --- within the limits of the moral order and the common good -- to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events (12).

The proviso about respect for the moral order and the common good calls attention to the limits of this right. Access to information has to be combined with the necessary respect for confidentiality in some areas. Libelous assertions or incitements to hatred cannot be justified on the grounds of freedom of speech. Yet the principle of freedom remains, to be respected both in the private and the public sectors.

Religions have a role to play in safeguarding this fundamental right. They are, or can be, a significant part of a communications network. They help to form public opinion. They have a duty to educate people about the issues that concern society, particularly from the moral aspect. They must be concerned about inculcating respect and protecting human dignity. Their voices will be more powerful if they can be joined together. Hence the importance of joint statements by religious leaders, whether emanating from established interreligious bodies or ad hoc groups. In order to accomplish this task, religious bodies themselves need to enjoy freedom.

The encyclical thus goes on to enunciate this other basic freedom:

Also among man's rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public (14).

Pope John Paul II has been even more radical, identifying religious freedom as the most basic human right after the right to life. In his peace message for 1999 he put it this way:

Religion expresses the deepest aspirations of the human person, shapes people's vision of the world and affects their relationships with others: basically it offers the answer to the question of the true meaning of life, both personal and communal. Religious freedom therefore constitutes the very heart of human rights.

It must be observed that this principle of religious freedom has a public, a communal dimension. It cannot be reduced to a merely private matter. There cannot be harmony in a given society if certain sectors of it feel oppressed on religious grounds.  Respect for religious freedom is therefore a factor in establishing and maintaining peace.

It is obvious that this principle and its application have to be part of ongoing interreligious dialogue. Religious leaders may not themselves be able to rectify abuses of religious freedom, but they can put pressure on governments that may be guilty of such abuses and at the same time help to create a public opinion favorable to greater freedom in the religious domain.

In certain countries legislation has been introduced, or proposed, forbidding "unethical conversions". If what is banned is proselytism, that is the use of undue means to bring about conversion to a particular religion, then such legislation may be considered justified. If, however, any passage from one religion to another is forbidden, then there is a radical contradiction of a fundamental aspect of the principle of religious freedom. Let me quote again John Paul II in the same message of 1999:

(The) inviolability (of religious freedom) is such that individuals must be recognized as having the right to change their religion, if their conscience so demands. People are obliged to follow their conscience in all circumstances and cannot be forced to act against it. Precisely for this reason, no one can be compelled to accept a particular religion, whatever the circumstances or motives.

It is readily understood that a religious sanction may be applied by the authorities of a religion on a person who leaves that religion to join another -- canon 1364 of the Code of Canon Law lays down that an apostate from the faith incurs automatic excommunication -- but the change of religion should not entail deprivation of civil rights. This is a delicate topic, one on which dialogue is already taking place but needs to be pursued.

There is also the question of "reciprocity", the equal treatment of religious minorities. This concerns  first of all the possibility of having places of worship, or even more minimally, the possibility of gathering for worship without being harassed by security forces. It is not sufficient for the civil authorities to say that people can pray at home. Religion has a communitarian aspect which has a right to find expression in common worship. Religious communities should also have the right to freedom of expression, the possibility to publish materials for the education of their members, and also to import such materials. Furthermore these communities should have the right to propagate their views to others. There does need to be a respect for public order, so it is understandable that the authorities would ban any form of preaching or publication which is disrespectful of the religion of the majority, or indeed of any religious community. It is nevertheless a violation of the right to religious freedom if communities are condemned to a clandestine existence.

Let me conclude this section by quoting from a non-Catholic source, a report of a regional consultation organized in India, in the Fall of 2003, by the Network for Interfaith Concerns in the Anglican Communion:

"We believe that it is crucially important that Christian interfaith work should embrace advocacy for the Church in places where it is under persecution, or where its freedom to propagate the Gospel, to engage in mission and ministry, and to welcome new members is denied. More widely, we recognize an obligation to be in solidarity with all religious minorities where their fundamental rights are under attack."

In divided societies and a divided world where religious difference is often used or perceived as a cause of conflict and destruction, we affirm that working for reconciliation between different faith communities is a responsibility laid upon us by God, and that as Christians we must do this in partnership with members of other faith communities, with secular organizations, and with all people of good will. Our vocation to share in God's work of reconciliation requires us to strive to build up open, trusting and honest relationships with our neighbors of other religions, even in situations where this is very difficult. We see such interreligious reconciliation as an integral part of the mission of God in which we share.[13]


Truth, justice, love, freedom -- four pillars of peace. To these I would be inclined to add a fifth, namely prayer. We know our weakness, and how difficult it is to live up to these principles. We need to implore God's help. Blessed John XXIII drew attention to this. He presented peace as:

An order that is founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity, and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom.

So magnificent, so exalted is this aim that human resources alone, even though inspired by the most praiseworthy good will, cannot hope to achieve it. God Himself must come to man's aid with His heavenly assistance, if human society is to bear the closest possible resemblance to the kingdom of God (167-168).

John Paul II has shown his deep conviction of this need by inviting representatives of different religions to pray for peace, in Assisi, first in October 1986, and again in January 1993 for peace in Europe and in particular the Balkans, and more recently in January 2002. The "spirit of Assisi" has been kept alive, by the annual gatherings organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio, but also by the Organization of Religious Leaders of Japan, under Buddhist inspiration, who have gathered people to pray for peace, on Mt Hiei, every year since 1987, in the first part of August during which occur the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There have also been innumerable initiatives of interreligious prayers for peace at the local and national levels.  I wish to mention one event that took place at Clermont-Ferrand, France, in 1995, during the "calling to mind" (not the celebration) of the ninth centenary of the First Crusade. A friend of mine was asked to preside and moderate a prayer vigil for Jews, Christians and Muslims. He was rather skeptical, but he felt he could not opt out. He was agreeably surprised at what a difference the prayer made. People had been rather cool and distant from one another before the ceremony, but the fact of standing together before God changed the climate. The members of the assembly discovered themselves to be truly brothers and sisters, despite their differences.

Prayer for peace can be a distinct interreligious activity, but prayer should permeate all interreligious endeavors. As the participants in the West Coast dialogue put it:

Prayer is an essential element in the schedule of an interreligious dialogue to sustain the intense conversation.[14]

It is the spirit of prayer that reminds us that in meeting and cooperating with people of other religions we are not seeking the advantage only of our own group, but the good of all. In this way interreligious dialogue can truly be a contribution to peace in the world.


[1] Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 2003, no.s 3,4; emphasis in the original.

[2] Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Dialogue and Proclamation, 1991,  no.49.

[3] Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Guidelines for Dialogue between Christians and Muslims, New York/Mahwah, N.J., Paulist Press, 1990. This is a second edition, written by Maurice Borrmans (original French edition, Paris, Cerf, 1981), translated by R. Marston Speight. It builds on the first edition which had been prepared by Louis Gardet.

[4] The West Coast Dialogue between American Catholics and Muslims, Friends and not Adversaries: a Catholic-Muslim Spiritual Journey, in Islamochristiana 30(2004) pp.178-9.

[5] Ibid. pp.182, 186-7.

[6] Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Towards a Culture of Dialogue, Vatican City, 2001, p.80.

[7] ibid. pp.86-87.

[8] Message for the Day of Peace, 2003, no.3.

[9] Cf. Islamochristiana 28(2002) pp.178-179.

[10] Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Peace: a Single Goal and a Shared Intention, Vatican City, 2002, p.93

[11] John Paul II, To Representatives of Muslims of the Philippines (Davao, February 20, 1981), in Gioia, loc.cit.no.363, emphasis in the original.

[12] Cf. Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Peace: a Single Goal and a Shared Intention, Vatican City, 2002, p.90.

[13] Cf. Pro Dialogo 115 (2004/1), pp.93-94.

[14] Cf. Islamochristiana, 30(2004) p.174.