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L.M. Curaming: Religion as a Motivating Force in the Pursuit of Peace

Paper presented to Assembly 2002, “Establishing a Culture of Peace: Worldviews, Institutions, Leadership, and Practice; The Search for Solutions to Critical Global Problems," February 14-18, 2002, Seoul, Korea.

There is a story that the leaders of two nations, one a fundamentalist theocracy the other a military dictatorship, visited God to find out when the turbulence in their countries would end and their peoples would be at peace. To the theocrat’s question, “Almighty, when will the troubles of my people end?” God answered, “Not in your lifetime.” It was the turn, next, of the military dictator to ask the same question. To him God answered: “Not in my lifetime.”

The moral of the story is that our attitudes and the systems of governance we create affect war and peace. They are both conscious choices made by human beings, and not curses or blessings that God sends arbitrarily.

We are gathered here not only to explore the role of religion in the pursuit of peace, but above all to examine ourselves concerning our commitment to peace as believers, following varied traditions, but having a common origin and a common destiny. I presume we all recognize that religion is a power to reckon with in society, and that it serves as a force that effect changes. For this reason, we wish to listen to one another. We believe that this itself is already a sign of peace. In listening to one another there is already, a reply to the disturbing questions that worry us. This already serves to scatter the shadows of suspicion and misunderstanding.

The questions before us are: How can we bear witness to a most Loving and Compassionate God who loves each one of us and the whole world? How can we live as creatures whose common Creator, the common Beginning and common End, is nearer to us than our jugular vein?

Religion Helps to Promote Peace

The story told at the start of this presentation shows that God himself placed in the human heart an innate predisposition to live in peace and harmony. With our efforts to pursue this peace and harmony among all peoples, we are aware that we are representing the deepest sentiment of every human being. History has given us believers who have distinguished themselves as witnesses to peace. They enunciate the cry for peace in the hearts of believers. By their lives and examples, they have shown that it is possible to build bridges and lead people, who are always in need of peace, to walk together in the path of peace.

Peace is a spiritual concept. Peace seen as a secular construct has had a poor record of accomplishment. I say this as somebody who comes from Mindanao, a southern Philippine island. It has long conjured images of bloody battles between peoples who claim to be Christians and Muslims. The tensions have been many times “calmed” by politics and economics. These are indeed necessary but never, enough solutions. Spirituality is a paradigm of peace. It is only within a culture of peace and universal kinship that the case of peace is safe and stable.

Religious traditions have the resources needed to overcome fragmentation and to promote mutual friendship and respect among peoples. A genuine religious belief is an inexhaustible wellspring of mutual respect and harmony among peoples. In a millennium marked by multiplicity of religions and cultures, all religions are called to provide a common and complementary moral and religious foundation for this struggle (towards liberation and wholeness), and be forces for growth and communion rather than sources of alienation and conflict. Religions have a prophetic role in public life. What then are the integral parts of religion that can help promote world peace?

1. Religion appeals to conscience
As religion appeals to conscience and to the heart, people seek in the various religions answers to fundamental questions that concern human existence such as the meaning, purpose, end of human life, the meaning of evil and sin, the cause of sorrow and suffering, the relationship of humans with God and neighbor, the path to true happiness, etc. These deep questionings serve the cause of justice, fraternal cooperation and therefore peace for both the individual and for society.

2. Prayer and meditation
If peace is God’s gift and has it source in him, where are we to seek it and how can we build it, if not in a deep and intimate relationship with God? To build the peace of order, justice and freedom requires, therefore, a priority commitment to prayer, which is openness, listening, dialogue and finally union with God, the prime wellspring of true peace.

Various world religions strive to show faith in God, the Absolute and Transcendent, by prayer, meditation, sacred readings, and other spiritual exercises. These are useful stones in the foundation for peace. They help us to appreciate deeper truths and see our relationship to our Creator and to our neighbor.

Recent world events of violence heightened a sense of the value of peace as a gift from God, to be prayed for with ever greater trust, according to the practice of different religious traditions.

3. Asceticism
Many religions teach that things of this world have no permanent value; that they are passing away. They help believers to live in such a way that they do not become slaves to things. Religion equips persons to live according to a hierarchy of values and to grow in spiritual heights. This dimension facilitates the building of peace because war is often caused by immoderate desire for power, honor and wealth. The nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi was a power of the spirit, nourished and sustained by asceticism understood as overcoming aggressive instincts.

4. The Golden Rule
The love of our neighbor which Christianity professes as the golden rule of moral conduct: “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) is also part of the doctrinal patrimony of other great religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, African Traditional Religions, etc.

5. Religious freedom
By religious freedom, we mean that all persons are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in religious matters no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to one’s own beliefs. Furthermore, this means that no one is to be restrained from acting in accordance with one’s own beliefs, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. The acceptance and practice of this principle by the religions of the world are ways of promoting peace.

6. Justice and human promotion
Peace rests upon commitment to justice. There can be no true peace without respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, respect for the rights and duties of each person and respect for an equal distribution of benefits and burdens between individuals and in society as a whole. It can never be forgotten that situations of oppression and exclusion are often the source of violence and terrorism.

Believers in various religions realize that their religion must show itself in works of justice and human promotion. A religion would fade away if it did not come to grips with situations of hunger, poverty, illiteracy, apartheid, discriminations against people because of race, religion, social class, sex, etc.

The above reasons show why religions are at the service of peace. It is the duty of religions and of their leaders above all, to foster in the people of our time a renewed sense of the urgency of building peace. They must weave a priority for peace into the mindset of the global community.

Interreligious Initiatives to Promote Peace

Religious leaders and ordinary followers of varied religions in the world have long realized the importance of collaboration for the promotion of peace in society. With an endless list of what is happening all over the world, I could only mention here some initiatives.

1. The Philippines has a unique “Bishops Ulama Forum.” It is a dialogue forum consisting of Catholic Mindanao bishops, Muslim religious leaders (Ulama), and Protestant bishops who in the spirit of interreligious dialogue affirm their common commitments to peace and mutual understanding among their religious communities. In a spirit of a common search for a lasting peace, based on truth and justice in their localities, the group has been meeting regularly since 1996.

2. The World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 342 churches, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions, recently created a working group of around of 30 participants from the different parts of the world in Geneva from January 25-27, 2002. This group drafted a user guideline of a study document that the churches will use in overcoming violence.

3. Religious Leaders reach unprecedented joint accord on the Holy Land. More than a dozen senior Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders from the Holy Land have concluded an unprecedented joint declaration pledging themselves to work together for a just and lasting peace.

4. The United Religions Initiative is another group of believers (people of diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions throughout the world) that testify together that religions are committed to fostering in the world a climate of peace, justice and understanding, avoiding at all costs opposition between the various religions. It “is a growing global community dedicated to promoting enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, ending religiously motivated violence and creating cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.

5. Pope John Paul II undertook with great seriousness in inviting the Representatives of the world religions to make a pilgrimage of prayer to the City of Assisi on 24 January 2002. They came together to pray for the end of conflict and the promotion of true peace, and together, especially Christians and Muslims, declared before the world that religion must never become a cause of conflict, hatred and violence. The Multi-Faith day of Prayer, a virtual religious summit, was truly a powerful gesture of solidarity with all people who yearn for the end of hostilities, the cessation of wars, the healing of wounds, the creation of a global peace. More than 200 leaders of the world’s religions united to declare: "Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In God’s name, may all religions bring upon earth justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love!"

Conclusion: A Challenge

Together with all seekers of global peace, that we all ardently desire, let us affirm the United Nations Organization, honored with the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, of their efforts to develop further into what it was designed to be at the outset. May it more and more promote the fellowship of all nations, committed and able to act decisively toward international justice, peace, and the integrity of God’s creation. It must contribute in substance to the rectifying and healing of past injustices, as well as to building common visions for a better future.

“War can be decided by a few; peace requires the combined efforts of all” says Pope John Paul II. Could the United Nations, with all its facilities and machinery, take the leading role of combining efforts of all nations, of bringing world leaders together in view of having “a permanent interreligious presence" in its ongoing mission? May we all, through our worship and our prayer, be means by which God may work for the healing of the world.