Mons. George Frendo O.P.

Twenty years ago! Is it a day to remember, or a day to forget?

Pope John Paul’s message for the year 2002 “World Day of Peace”, which is commemorated each year on New Year’s Day, started with a reference to the tragic event of September 11th 2001, which, in his own words, was “a dramatic event, because on that day a crime of terrible gravity was committed: in the span of a few minutes, thousands of innocent persons, of various ethnic origins, were horrendously massacred.”

We still remember that tragic event, not with a spirit of revenge, but with the deep conviction that prejudice and division can only be conquered by unconditional love, and with the firm belief that peace is not a utopia, a beautiful but unrealistic dream; on the contrary, it is possible, once with a strong goodwill we strive to build a society on the solid foundations of justice, which is the gateway to true peace.

Politics, which must always be at the service of the national and international community, can become very dirty when it allows itself to be an instrument of opportunism and macchiavellism. It can become even more dirty when it makes use of religion to achieve certain evil ends. In the message of Pope John Paul II, to which I have already referred, he condemns, in unequivocal terms, every sort of terrorism perpetrated in the name of God, because, he states, terrorism manipulates not only man, but also God Himself. Consequently, he concludes, no person can ever claim the right to have recourse to terroristic acts in the name of God or of religion.

Prince El Hassan Bin Talal, of Jordan, in the Seventh World Assembly on Religion and Peace, held in Amman in November 1999, affirmed: “What are described as religious conflicts have little to do with religion, and even less with religious doctrine.” And Bodo Hombach, who, for some years, was the special coordinator for the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, in a talk he gave in Budapest in a meeting for religious leaders in South-Eastern Europe in May 2000, declared: “Peace and reconciliation are key religious themes of our times. But we should be conscious that very recently, cynical and greedy people instrumentalized religion to help fan the flames of conflict to achieve their brutal ends.” I was present for both these events.

Both Prince El Hassan and Bodo Hombach were speaking before the September 11th events. But their statements are more valid today than when they uttered them. The terrorists who perpetrated the crimes of September 11th, and who perhaps sought to justify their claims in the name of Allah, were but making a caricature of the Islamic religion, which is far from being a religion of hatred or which favours terrorism. Tony Blair duly noted that the perpetrators of these terroristic acts must not be termed: “islamic terrorists”; they are “simply terrorists”.

We in Albania can duly boast of the excellent relations between different religions. Alfred Moisiu, when he was President of the Republic, in an address to Albanian Ambassadors, emphatically declared: “We cannot ignore the existence of different religions in our country, nay rather we appreciate their role for the creation of an atmosphere of tolerance in our society. Albania can boast of the harmonious co-existence among religious communities. A fundamental characteristic of Albanian civilization is its religious tolerance, and this leaves no room for fundamentalists of any religion whatsoever.” (“Ne nuk mund të mohojmë ekzistencën e besimeve fetare në vendin tonë, madje e vlerësojmë rolin e tyre në krijimin e një fryme tolerante tek njerëzit tanë. Shqipëria mund të krenohet për harmoninë mes komuniteteve fetare. Shqipëria ka si tipar themelor të civilizimit të saj tolerancën fetare dhe në të nuk ka vend për fondamentistë të asnjë feje.”)

Religion plays a very important role for the establishment of order, justice, and peace in society. We all know the old dictum: “Si vis pacem, para bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war). History, especially the history of the 20th century, has proved this dictum wrong. But if we are concerned for peace, we must work for justice. All religions are fully aware that peace is not inertia, nor is it merely the absence of war. Peace demands that mutual respect for which every human person, created in the image of God, has an inalienable right. Thus true peace presupposes committing ourselves, especially religious and political leaders, to work for justice.