Pope Francis welcomes former Israeli President Shimon Peres in this photo dated 2012. CNS photo/ L 'Osservatore Romano via EPA

United religions

  • September 11, 2014

Shimon Peres has been a witness to inter-religious strife most of his life. The former Israeli President, now 91, shared a Nobel Peace prize with Yasser Arafat and has lived through several Middle East wars. He has experienced the link between religious extremism and terrorism.

So when he talks, we should listen, even when his wisdom sounds wishful.

In a recent meeting with Pope Francis, Peres proposed a new international organization called United Religions to operate alongside the United Nations. It would be a multi-faith coalition permanently on-call to offer crisis resolution around the world when religious tension erupts into violence.

As Peres noted, unlike previous centuries when most wars arose from nationalism and territory disputes, 21st century warfare is often incited, he said, “using religion as an excuse.” Zealots are enlisting young recruits with calls to war that pervert religious teachings and urge slaughter in the name of faith.

He offered no thoughts on how a United Religions would be organized. Its only weapons, one assumes, would be prayer and diplomacy. But Peres is absolutely right on a couple of points. The world would be better if it had what he called “an unquestionable moral authority” and a logical voice for that authority is world religious leaders.

On issues of peace and justice, the major religions should speak with a single, loud voice. The world may be increasingly secular but that is no reason for religious leaders to slip into the background. The opposite should be true. They should be united, visible and vocal in opposition to these pseudo-religious warlords. As Peres said, the world needs a voice of moral authority to loudly proclaim: “No! God doesn’t want this and doesn’t allow it.”

The archbishops of Toronto and Ottawa did exactly that last weekend. Cardinal Thomas Collins and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast joined leaders of other religions to pray for peace and urge government leaders to aid refugees and protect victims in Middle East war zones. People of all religions should be allies for peace and justice and never reluctant to join forces in these causes.

In a Sept. 4 Vatican meeting, Peres presented his United Religions idea to Pope Francis and nominated the Pope to lead the organization. Over the past 18 months, Francis has established himself as a leader who speaks with genuine moral authority. He is respected outside Catholic circles. Who else in the world, asked Peres, can draw half a million people when he speaks?

United Religions or not, the Pope most surely will continue to speak out for justice, and his bishops should continue to collaborate with other religious leaders. Together they can be the moral voice that the world must hear.

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