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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 10:03 GMT
Assisi prayer: Is praying for peace possible?
Pope John Paul II and 200 worldwide religious leaders a "day of prayer" for peace in the town of Assisi, the birthplace of St Francis.
The day of prayer for world peace is intended by the Pope to give extra emphasis to his declarations after the 11 September attacks on the United States, that religion must never be a motive for conflict in the world of the 21st century.
But some people argue that religion is the cause of many of the world conflicts.
Is a prayer for peace the answer? Can it ever be successful in a world where religious conflict is at the root of so much trouble?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Guy Chapman, UK
I earnestly congratulate the Pope for having the courage to invite so many people of so many faiths to pray with him. I also congratulate the religious leaders for turning up. There should be no criticism of this action because all they are doing is praying for a better world, that violence ends and that for once we can just have a little time when countries are not trying to blow each other up! This may set an example to those bent on war to change their minds and strive for peace.
I find it ironic that religion has been at the root of almost all conflicts since time immemorial. Rather than praying for peace, perhaps the Catholic Church should open its vast coffers and put its money where its mouth is.
Toby Cottrell, UK
Peace will come when we each visit the other creed's place of worship secure in the knowledge that the house of the Lord has many apartments, all of equal value!
We should also pray for justice.
As a devout Muslim, I can say without doubt that I believe that prayer has both spiritual and practical benefits.
However, what must be stressed is that Islam teaches that prayer alone will not achieve anything. Actively striving to achieve goals is just as important.
I personally don't see much point in the meeting that John Paul II held, as I feel that our priorities should be elsewhere - like treating the causes of so-called terrorism.
It is interesting to see the volte-face of the anti-religious brigade in the face of this attempt to show the true meaning of religion. The accusation has often been that religion is the cause of all the problems in the world. Then, when religious leaders come together to underline the peaceful nature of their beliefs, they are accused of hypocrisy. Religion is thus condemned when it says nothing, and then condemned again when it tries to correct the mistaken beliefs of its more zealous followers. The truth, of course, is that religion is not, and never has been, the true cause of violence or warmongering. These evil things are perpetrated by politicians and other people in positions of power, who have occasionally taken advantage of poorly understood religious texts to justify their actions. It is the politics of greed and envy which are the true causes of all the problems of the world.
What is important is that people say loudly that they want peace. If these requests are heard by God and He empowers people to achieve peace, so much the better. In any case it is down to us.
Wars nowadays are about who's in charge of people or resources, not what we think.
Well to be honest it is a nice gesture, but will achieve very little. Religion is cast aside whenever it's convenient and used as an excuse whenever necessary. Perhaps if religions were not so conservative things would be better. Sadly most religions, while founded in good faith, get bogged down in "add-ons" and inevitably stagnate.
Praying for peace is certainly possible and indeed necessary, but this Assisi meeting is not the way to do it.
By meeting with heretics, schismatics and false religions and giving the impression that all religions have equal value, the Holy Father is not helping the cause of true peace, which can come only through Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church which he founded.
He should be praying for the conversion of these unfortunate
people, not praying with them. He should
remember that the Catholic Church, the
mystical body of Christ, is the one ark of
He would do far more for true peace if
he were to ask for the world wide recitation of
the rosary and for prayer and penance for the conversion
of the world to the Catholic Faith.
The 20th century has been the century during which the largest number of humans lost their lives as a result of wars. The vast majority of these wars had nothing to do with religion, 1st world war, 2nd world war and the proxy wars during the cold war etc. Yet some people still like to think that some how religion is always the cause of human misery. Behind every war there is always injustice or a perceived injustice.
Not that I believe in any sort of God, but what makes anyone think that praying to one is going to sort out anything? Surely it would be more productive to try and sort out the problems ourselves?
Patricia Ward, Australia
I find it enlightening as a young person that there is still one person that has the trust and faith in humans, through prayer, to put his time and energy into this. Well done I say!
It's the 21st century. Isn't it time that all forms of mysticism, including Christianity, Islam, totem poles and astrology were all consigned to where they belong - the rubbish bin?
Of course praying for peace is possible. We must pray constantly for peace. As the Pope says, it is not religion that has caused war.. it is the lack of peace in mankind┐s heart that has led to hatred and war. Peace begins with each one of us and our desire for unity with one another. This can only come about with prayer. The governments of this world clearly have no power to bring about peace. But God does. However, he needs our prayers and our change of heart in order to do this. Let us pray with All the religious leaders in Assisi today that their prayers - and ours - will be heard.
There is one God and He lives, hears prayers and answers them. So yes, prayer works. However, as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will, Father, but yours". So, even when we pray to God, we have to understand that what we see as the right answer may not be His will and we have to accept that we may be asking for the wrong things. After all, who are we to challenge the Creator of all things with our worldly, humanist and often selfish opinions?
Well, at least the people sitting
about praying will be too busy to
hurt anyone. Other than that, I
can't see how it's going to help.
Since when did ignorance, dogma
and superstition ever help
I have to wonder about the decision to use this as a topic for "Talking Point" people who are not interested in God or who see those who are as abnormal, will never understand why people have faith without looking into in far more depth than is offered here. It seems more divisive than inciteful and I am sure will encourage those unwilling to believe in anything other than materialism and their their limited understanding of science to write in and criticise the "zealots" and faithful who today try to overcome the baggage of past centuries and the bigoted nature of many people today.
Is prayer asking God to act in a way we desire or is it actually about us learning to listen to God and desire what he desires? If the latter is true then prayer is definitely the answer because it is about changing our outlook to one of love and mercy. Whatever the church may have said in centuries past, let us join them in this fight that is entirely peaceful.
Catholics everywhere, through our figurehead - The Pope - are trying to say sorry for the all the years of hate, mistrust and violence.
Hopefully his prayers and gestures will help assure people of other faiths that we are trying to hold out an olive-branch and increase understanding and tolerance.
I sincerely hope that people will recognise what the Pope is trying to do.
Prayer alone cannot change the world, but God can. The prayer should be for God to open the hearts of those whose anger and close-mindedness have made them use God or Allah as an excuse to act in ways that are surely not how He intended people to act. All religions have a version of "treat others how you want to be treated", but that free-will thing keeps tripping us up. If prayer can remind people that it's all the same God, and helps us take personal responsibility for our actions in His eyes, even non-believers have to admit it can't hurt.
Sarah Joyce, UK
It is abundantly clear that most of those above fail to see the point of religion. Religion has often been seen to contribute to violence and strife, but it has been mankind's twisting of eternal truths rather than the truths themselves. No religion preaches hate, but man has been able to infect his beliefs with the virus of hate. Religion holds out the hope of a higher standard that we can all strive to someday attain.
To those who don't believe in God, be grateful He believes in you!
When will people wake up to the fact that god doesn't exist and that all religions should be banned. This would stop most if not all of the hate in the world. We are no different that all the other creatures on this planet. Cats and dogs don't have gods, its just about territory and for that there will always be fighting. It always reminds me of the news story where there were some Bosnians praying for the fighting to stop in a church, then the church was bombed and they were all killed. Now tell me, is that what your just and kind god would have wanted?
It certainly can't hurt.
Ed Hudson, England
When human endeavours have not succeeded then we must pray and hand over our difficulties to God in prayer.
The Pope can pray as much as he likes for peace. But nothing can chance the fact that any religion rests on perceiving a difference between yourself and people of other (or no) religions. Implicit in this recognition is the acknowledgement that you believe your own religion to be superior to all others. As long as this situation continues there can be no equality, no peace, only prejudice and inevitably war.
Furthermore I question whether we can take a man such as Pope John Paul II seriously when he preaches peace and yet has repeatedly refused to apologise for and publicly recognise the Catholic church's toleration of Hitler's persecution and mass genocide of millions of Jews in the 1940s.
Religion is an institutionalised expression of the culture and values of society. But regardless of how the principles of a religion may appear on paper, it is up to the adherents of a religion to faithfully represent them in reality. The behaviour of the "Catholic Church" in history is complex and varies from country to country and from time to time.
It's incomprehensible to me that some would accuse the Church of hypocrisy because the Pope has, for decades, sought to atone for historical sins of the Church and foster better relations between people and religions. In fact, it is quite the opposite of hypocrisy: he's trying to faithfully represent the principles of love and understanding which is quintessential to Christianity. The Catholic Church is not the only religion or cultural institution to have done wrong. What other religion has made remotely similar efforts?
Some have pointed out that religion is the root of the problem in most cases of conflict. I have to disagree and say it is the common excuse for most conflicts, as if it's an okay. Not the inhuman, corrupt, murder etc that takes place.
It's interesting that generally the people who denigrate the Pope and prayer do so for two contradictory reasons. First, they complain that prayer is spiritual and that spirituality doesn't matter. "There's no God, so what's the point?" Then, they say that religion "has caused most of the wars in the world." This eagerness to separate the spiritual and secular characteristics of religion, depending on how one wants to disparage religion, really is a failure to understand that the Pope's position is both spiritual and secular. Whether his prayers have any "spiritual" effect on the world, his political position surely does.
So grant that prayers for peace are influential, if not because of divine intervention then because of the measurable political power of the person who prays and his institution, the Church. If you're unwilling to grant at least this, then consider why you're eager to point out only the negative effect of religious influence on the secular, political world. You can't have it both ways: either religion has an effect on the secular world, or it doesn't. It's not logical to say its effectiveness is only to cause war and not to stop it, as if religion only affects politics when it does so for the worst.
Alastair Stevens, UK
while people are praying they won't be fighting.
God is not responsible for the current problems; it is the weakness of man. We have not been asked to pray in the anticipation that we will wake up tomorrow and everything will be ok; we are to pray and ask for the strength from God that we, as men, will have the strength to sort out the mess we have created for ourselves.
Prayers are effective but only to some extent. If you expect to stop wars via prayers then it's impossible. The only thing that can stop wars is justice and no oppression. Where ever in the world you go you will see that where there is oppression and injustice, wars break. Examples of these are Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, East Timor and so on. So if there is a way of stopping wars then it's by actions, and not sole dependency on divine help.
If you find value in prayer; pray. I will not underestimate the power of men of good will. But some folks find solace by praying softly and carrying a big stick.
I am a Catholic. I approve of what the Pope is trying to do in Assisi. There is no doubt that The Vatican has caused much grief through
modern history. However, getting 200 religious leaders of different faiths together in prayer is worthwhile, indeed.
There is a disturbing amount of arrogance displayed towards religion by many of the people in this discussion. The day of prayer is intended specifically for these sorts of people, to show them that religions come together in teaching good, moral values. People, however, are imperfect and inevitably deviate from them (whilst still claiming to act in the name of religion).
Perhaps it will impress upon those who have been fooled up to this point that the war on terrorism, the conflict in the Middle East, and just about every so-called "religious war" on the globe has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with politics.
Only a fool would dare to say God exists, they gamble with their eternal destiny to deny all knowledge of his existence.
I will pray for peace because I have proof that when I pray my prayers are answered.
God created the heavens and the earth and all things are under his control and his power.
Whenever anyone attempts to blame religion for conflicts or strife etc I am always reminded of a sign seen in a USA gun shop. "Guns don't kill people, People kill people" This is true of religion. It is the person that chooses to interpret any particular religion to suit their own agenda that are the real troublemakers.
Other causes? Politics, Race, tribal, even which football team someone supports is used as a convenient excuse to fight. I am not religious myself, but lets not have it used as a scapegoat for the latest atrocities. Religion brings a lot of comfort, security and meaning to people's lives. Let's just face the simple fact, that there are a lot of evil people in the world that are more than willing to exploit impressionable people to suit their own ends.
Prayer has two effects. At least one of these is firmly objective, and is valid for those of any or no belief: It acts as a rite of unity, joining people behind a common cause or objective. But for believers it has another, more practical purpose: Not to twist God's arm to make him do what we want, but to offer ourselves as a channel for his power to move in the World (whatever the cost to us). Thus, whichever way you look at it, prayer is a sacrifical act, transcending human greed and selfishness, whose impact on the World can only be beneficial.
A total waste of time. The only religious leaders attending are the ones who already agree with the idea, not that they have much if any control over their followers. The praying? When has that ever achieved anything?
Prayer changes the pray-er. Let peace begin with me. If enough people in the world acted on peace, rather than to spread anger or scepticism by practicing them, the world would change. If it's not changing in your view, whose fault is that? Try praying. Try being a part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
Robert del Valle, USA
Steve Whelan may view this as hypocrisy - I'd prefer to think of it as a definite change for the better.
Religion has never been the cause of any evil doings. Its people who use religion as a weapon to all the atrocities mankind committed over the centuries. The Pop's move is absolutely marvellous. PEACE is the fundamental aspect of any religion. The fact that the major religious leaders are united together to pray for peace is by itself the miracle of God. I was disappointed to read that one comment that the Pope is praying with other religion followers has been taken negatively. But Christianity is humble modest not pompous.
Genuine praying has always reached the ears of the Creator. I'm not a Catholic, but indeed a devout Christian. I fully appreciate the Pop's initiative and as a Servant of God, and follower of Christ , the Pope is fulfilling his duty by inviting others to pray for peace. Futhermore as long as our motive is genuine and sincere one second of prayer is enough, let alone one day.
Unfortunately it seems that religion is occasionally hijacked by individuals who have alternative political motives. Take Hitler, Sadam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, none of them has much credibility amongst their respective faiths. Their actions were in total contradiction to the root of all religions, which is peace. We cannot blame religion in scapegoat fashion. I think the intention of a prayer for world peace is quite commendable.
For centuries the Vatican has given approval for Holy Wars, now they are saying that religion should not be used as a motive for conflict, sounds like hypocrisy to me.
I personally have no religious tendencies, but believe that if these prayers bring peace to those angered, and security to those who live in fear, then it is no bad thing. Those who spend the whole time insisting it's all lies or made up stories are as narrow minded as those zealots who knock on my door insisting their religion is right.
Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands
If praying for peace worked there would never have been any wars. It really is about time people stopped relying on a supernatural power to sort things out. Humanity needs to take responsibility for itself - now more than ever.
Pope John Paul II should be praised for this initiative. Recent news events have shown the divisive power of religion; displays like this show that whilst divisions exist, the core values of religions are ones that bring people together, rather than separating them. Even those who see no spiritual value in the prayers being offered should recognise that the unity of will shown in the assembled leaders' desire for peace is cause for celebration.
Roy Culley, Switzerland
Religion at least one of the root causes of every conflict on record. How can these people take themselves seriously when they believe they will solve the world's problems by praying for a day!
While I don't think one day of prayer is going to bring peace to the world, it sure can help. It is intolerance that is the cause of conflict in the world, not religion. God is the only one who can get man out of the mess he has gotten himself into.
I am not a religious person, but have my own beliefs which are a personal system, and which I keep to myself, unless asked. Whilst history shows that religion is the cause for most conflict in the world, I also recognise that religion serves a purpose in giving people hope. Without it, lives would be empty. With it, over zealous people take it to extremes, and with a narrow-minded 'black and white' attitude, cause pain and problems. It is the way of the world, I'm afraid.
The Pope says no more conflicts should be caused by religion - Catholic dogma has been a major cause of conflict for centuries, so this is great to hear, but he could further improve the world by adopting far more enlightened views on contraception and the like.
Church leaders answered your questions
24 Jan 02 | Europe
Pope leads world peace prayer day
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