Ed. Note: The following talk was given at the 2016 World Peace Day Interfaith Prayer Service, January 3, 2016, Wentz Concert Hall, North Central College in Illinois. Over 300 people attended. The event was co-sponsored by Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Bahai, Christian Scientist and other faith communities, including Pax Christi Illinois.
The central drama of the Christian Gospel is the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Over the millennia this central event of the Christian faith has been interpreted and understood in many different ways. One of these interpretations, offer by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians is often overlooked but I think critical to a Christian’s understanding of the meaning of the cross. Paul writes:
“For [Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us, … that he might create in himself one new humanity in the place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross.” (Ephesians 2:13-16)
For Paul the passion and death of Jesus on the cross not only reconciled humanity to God, but it served to reconcile members of the human family to each other. And Christians, who are called to be Ambassadors of Christ, are called to this work of reconciliation in the world today even if it means putting ourselves at risk. As Jesus said:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
Standing before a steel beam salvaged from the rubble of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Pope Francis called on leaders from the world’s religions who surrounded him to be a “force for reconciliation.”
“For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace. In opposing every attempt to create a rigid uniformity, we can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of languages, cultures and religion, and lift our voices against everything which would stand in the way of such unity.”
During his 2014 visit in Ankara, Turkey, Pope Francis said:
“Good relations and dialogue between religious leaders have, in fact, acquired great importance. They represent a clear message addressed to their respective communities which demonstrates that mutual respect and friendship are possible, notwithstanding differences. Such friendship, as well as being valuable in itself, becomes all the more meaningful and important in a time of crises such as our own, crises which in some parts of the world are disastrous for entire peoples.”
Recognizing the desperation of hundreds of thousands of refugees who are fleeing the terror in their home countries Pope Francis urges the world to see brothers and sisters in the faces of these strangers at their borders. Today in our country politicians, pundits and even a few religious leaders are fanning the flames of fear, mistrust and hatred. Mirroring the violent religious extremists around the world they seek to divide us against each other in the vain attempt to gain power and prestige for themselves.
One of the most powerful ways we have to disrupt, degrade and dismantle the networks of hate, the politics of intolerance and the ideologies of superiority is coming together in public displays of solidarity across all the boundaries of race, class, religion and other social constructs.
Each and every one of you here today is a counter-terrorism activist. Each one of you here today represent the most powerful force against the lies of the demagogues and pied-pipers of hate in our nation who would destroy America in the name of saving it. Thank you for all that you do and never lose heart.
Love is more powerful than hate.