By Andrea Riccardi
Professor Riccardi is a historian and founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio. The following are extensive excerpts from his remarks at the opening of the International Meeting for Peace, ‘THE AUDACITY OF PEACE’.
BERLIN. 10 September 2023 (IDN) — It is of significance—for women and men of different religions, who fill their thoughts with peace—to be in Berlin. In this city history is not silent. It speaks of great sorrows, those of world war, of totalitarianism, the Holocaust, the Cold War.
The deportees themselves knew how crucial it was to remember the war. Abram Cytryn, a Jew from the terrible ghetto of Łódź, who died in Auschwitz, with the soul of a poet, explains why he began to write the story of that enclosure of grief: “Living in the hell of the ghetto—he writes—and seeing the blood of my brothers dripping, I decided to set my testimony on paper… I wish the blood to splatter on paper and pass on the memory of those merciless years to future generations.”
The blood splattered from those merciless years, the voice of the witnesses, have consolidated the culture of peace, rooted in the horror of war and the awareness of how much harm men can do through war. This culture of peace has also became, especially in Eastern Europe, a peaceful force that has struck the violence of power.
War is the denial of the common destiny of peoples
The passage of time, the disappearance of the war generation and of the witnesses of the Holocaust led to forgetting the horror of war. Even rehabilitating it as a tool for resolving conflicts or asserting interests.
War is the denial of the common destiny of peoples. It is the defeat of both politics and humanity. It resurrects nightmares and hells of history, which today are even worse because of the power of weapons and new technologies, unknown of in the past.
Berlin, however, speaks out strongly in another sense as well. As the renewed capital of the Federal Republic, it speaks out loudly of the great achievements of freedom: the reunification of Germany, the end of the division of the world in blocks, solidarity and the value of democracy, welcoming of people of other origins. Here the legacy of the war lasted almost half a century after 1945. Such a hard legacy for this city. It was erased—I emphasise—not with another war, but with a movement, which was the peaceful pressure of people (who sacrificed themselves), diplomacy, dialogue, audacity. The audacity of 1989!
In a sense, 1989 in Europe overturned the paradigm of 1789, whereby any real revolution can only be achieved by violence. Berlin tells how one can bring down the Wall with one’s bare hands and revive a free and united city. After 1989, a generation hoped for a more united, peaceful, democratic world. But something did not go as hoped for, perhaps because the process of globalisation, mostly economic, was assimilated to providence in people’s belief.
Cultures of war and conflict
The globalisation of markets has not gone hand in hand with the globalisation of peace, of democracy, of the spirit. Tensions, oppositions, fractures have reacted to the global world. I will not go over the past 30 years. But today’s international situation is far from the hopes at the fall of the Wall. Marked as it is, not only by new walls, but by harsh conflicts. By cultures of wall and conflict.
We know a lot about our contemporary world. We do not lack information; on the contrary. However, in the words of the Korean philosopher, Byung-Chul Han, “information alone does not explain the world“. It is not easy to understand and to act. One must encounter, even pain. We are reached by the cries of millions of women and men who suffer from war, from the crises war triggers, from the ecological disaster, from the abandonment to which they are condemned. These cries explain the painful side of our world.
We are prisoners
There is a general failure to free humanity from war: in Ukraine, in Africa and in so many other parts of the world. Wars, violent crises increase. Somehow, even though we believe we are reacting or acting, we are prisoners, though we do not admit it. Because of powerful armaments and war technologies, conflicts are often eternalised, finding no way out, even with one side’s victory. They last and meanwhile consume peoples, lives and the fabric of entire countries. Refugees flood the world, exposed to incredible suffering.
Powerful countries, government leaders, economic giants, find themselves powerless in the face of this scenario or subjugated by a logic that often others have set in motion, unashamedly practicing aggression. Wars are like fires: there are those who start them irresponsibly, but in the end no one controls them and they develop their own force, sometimes burning both the aggressors and the aggressed, as well as third countries.
These words are not inspired by a pacifist romanticism, rather by the historical experience of the conflicts of the last century and of this one, from the encounter with the wounds of peoples, from the welcoming of refugees, true witnesses and ambassadors of the pain of war.
As women and men of religion, we have been moving for years on the difficult ridge between war and hopes for peace. We took our first steps in Assisi, at the time of the cold war, in 1986, when John Paul II summoned religions to pray for peace. On 1st September 1989, fifty years after the beginning of World War II, we were in Warsaw, while the Wall still seemed to hold, to proclaim together as believers from East, West, and South: War never again! Never again such a war! Enough with the consequences of world war!
“In this difficult situation, prudence, although necessary, is no longer enough, nor are realism or loyalty, albeit decisive: we need audacity, which leads us beyond the wall of the impossible, which is where we have stopped, said Prof. Andrea Riccardi at the opening of the International Meeting for Peace, ‘THE AUDACITY OF PEACE’.
Year after year, we have monitored conflicts, sought paths of peace (even managing to find them in some countries), worked for the culture of dialogue and encounter, aware that peace is at the heart of the great religious traditions. Speaking last year to the religious leaders, gathered in the spirit of Assisi in Rome, Pope Francis said: “Here the voice of the voiceless finds a hearing; here the hope of the poor and the powerless is firmly established: in God, whose name is Peace’. Religions cannot fail to listen to the voice of the voiceless and become their voice.
The history of religions has not always been expressive of this peace, yet -in these years- great figures of spiritual men and women, people of dialogue, bold and patient mediators, wise men and women have accompanied us. We have not stopped, every year, setting a meeting, from city to city, to invoke peace, respectful of the diversity of religious traditions, to prevent the dream of peace from being buried. It is not, because it is written in the deep fibres of the human being, in the depths of the faith of believers, in the desires of the desperate.
[…] Our visions need not be coincident, as well as our readings of the complex reality of our time: that is not what matters! However, there is a crucial point, expressed in the title of our meeting, the audacity of peace. In this difficult situation, prudence, although necessary, is no longer enough, nor are realism or loyalty, albeit decisive: we need audacity, which leads us beyond the wall of the impossible, which is where we have stopped.
A man who consumed himself on Scripture, Walter Brueggemann, writes: in the face of war “it is difficult for us to believe the possibility that a new reality may hatch. The future seems tired, atrocious, a replica of the pas
Politics must be an art of the impossible
Audacity of peace means believing that there is an alternative. That we must invest more in dialogue and diplomacy, in meeting for just and peaceful solutions. Talking about peace is not taking intellectually the aggressor’s side, nor selling the free will of others, but deep and realistic awareness of the evil war does to peoples. Audacity of peace, which is to pursue alternative visions without resigning oneself to the obligatory tracks of reality. Audacity of peace, for us believers, is invocation of peace and trust in God, who has plans of peace that guide history.
Václav Havel, a man who lead his country to freedom, said: “politics cannot be only the art of what is possible, that is, of speculation, calculation, intrigue, secret agreements and utilitarian deceptions, but rather it must be the art of the impossible, that is, the art of making oneself and the world better.”
The spiritual resources, those of humanism, the participation in the pain caused by war to so many people, generate audacity for a true, just peace, which can no longer be denied to too many peoples. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: Prof. Riccardi speaking at the opening of the International Meeting for Peace, ‘THE AUDACITY OF PEACE’, on 10 September 2023 in Berlin. Credit: Comunitá di Sant’Egidio.
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