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Prayer for world harmony

Pope Francis and other religious leaders have been committed to bring together representatives of the different faiths to pray for the much-needed peace in our planet.

Aleppo could be destroyed by Christmas if the bombing by Russian planes and Syrian forces continues, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, warned, adding that the extent of the human tragedy in the eastern part of the city is enormous, and that the world needs to avert another Srebrenica or Rwanda.

Before the civil war erupted in July 2012, Aleppo was the most populous Syrian city and a mosaic of different faiths where Christians and Muslims co-existed peacefully. After four years of attacks by government forces, rebel groups and the Islamic State, Russia also joined in, compounding the already rather complex scenario. Lately, Russian jets have been pounding the eastern section, turning it into a ghost city. Hospitals, aid personnel and U.N. convoys have also been targets of the military offensive.

What is most frustrating is the failure of world leaders to settle on a cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian aid to reach the besieged populations. All the ceasefires have been breached shortly after being agreed upon. It appears that there will be no end to this long-standing civil war.

Pope Francis’s assertion that humanity is living a World War III, in a piecemeal, seems true. He and other religious leaders have been committed to bring together representatives of the different faiths to pray for the much-needed peace in our planet.

Recently, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most important educational institution in the Islamic world, called on the responsibility of the religious leaders in the building of world peace. The cleric noted the centrality of peace in Islam, rejecting the false identification of Islam with terrorism. “Religion and violence are incompatible and all religious messages have one unique aim: the happiness of humankind.”

The Al-Azhar institution is undertaking interreligious initiatives with the Coptic Church of Egypt and others, which include research into causes of violence, reform of religious teaching about the other, and Christian-Muslim interaction of imams, priests and, especially, the youth. The program has been implemented all across Egypt.

Last September, some 450 religious leaders from all over the world gathered in the Italian city and birthplace of St. Francis, Assisi, for a World Day of Prayer for Peace under the theme “Thirst for Peace: Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue.” The interfaith event marked the 30th anniversary of the first World Day of Prayer for Peace convoked by Pope John Paul II in 1986, also in Assisi.

In spite of the different traditions, religious leaders were united in one common goal: prayer for world peace. All rejected the use of religion for evil and condemned killing in the name of God. In his final appeal, the Holy Father recognized “the need to pray constantly for peace because prayer protects the world and enlightens it...Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace.”

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