‘Let us be free from the nuclear nightmare’: Pope Francis leads peace appeal at Colosseum

Pope Francis prays during an interreligious peace appeal at the Colosseum in Rome, Oct. 25, 2022. Pope Francis prays during an interreligious peace appeal at the Colosseum in Rome, Oct. 25, 2022. | Vatican Media

Pope Francis raised the spectre of nuclear war at an interreligious appeal for peace at the Colosseum on Tuesday. 

Speaking from a wheelchair on a stage beside Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu representatives, the pope underlined that he was making a plea for peace at a time when it has been “gravely violated, assaulted, and trampled upon … in Europe.”

“Today, in fact, something we dreaded and hoped never to hear of again is threatened outright: the use of atomic weapons, which even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki continued wrongly to be produced and tested,” Pope Francis said Oct. 25.

Francis highlighted how St. John XXIII pleaded with all government leaders to spare the world the horrors of war in 1962 at a time “when military confrontation and nuclear holocaust seemed imminent” and said that he wanted to make this appeal his own 60 years later.

Immediately following the pope’s speech, a Syrian refugee read aloud an Appeal for Peace co-signed by the religious leaders present.

“Humanity must end wars or it will be a war that will end humanity,” the appeal stated.

“Therefore, let us be free from the nuclear nightmare. Let us immediately reopen a serious dialogue on nuclear nonproliferation and the dismantling of atomic weapons,” it said.

The prayer meeting for peace was part of a three-day interreligious summit called “The Cry for Peace,” organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio. The Catholic movement has held an international conference on the subject of peace every year since 1986, when St. John Paul II convened the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke at the opening day of the Sant’Egidio meeting, calling for Ukraine to set the terms of any future peace agreement. 

The final night of the event began with an ecumenical prayer for peace with Christian leaders inside the Colosseum. 

Christian leaders at the event included the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon; Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Dionysius Jean Kawak; Awa III, the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East; Lutheran Archbishop Tapio Luoma of Turku; and Jong Chun Park, the president of the World Methodist Council.

Representatives of world religions at the peace appeal ceremony included Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome; Shoten Minegishi, a Soto Zen Buddhist monk from Japan; Sayyed Abu al-Qasim al-Dibaji of the World Pan-Islamic Jurisprudence Organization; and Edith Bruck, a Hungarian-born Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor.

Swami Sarv Asthananda, the head of the Hindu Ramakrishna Vedanta Meditation Center in the U.K., and Jaswant Singh, a Sikh representative, also attended.

“We believers must work for peace in every way we can. It is our duty to help disarm hearts and call for reconciliation among peoples,” the religious leaders’ appeal said.

“Unfortunately, even among ourselves we have sometimes divided ourselves by misusing God’s holy name: we ask for forgiveness, with humility and shame. Religions are, and must continue to be, a great resource for peace. Peace is holy; war can never be.”

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