by Joanna Moorhead
CHRISTIANS must work with believers of other faiths if peace is to be achieved, Pope John Paul says in an ecumenically-minded message to mark World Peace Day.
John Paul says he does not wish to ignore or play down the differences between the Catholic church and other faiths, but that he is "convinced that, in promoting peace, there are certain elements or aspects which can be profitably developed and put into practice with the followers of other faiths and confessions".
Working together with other believers "can have a decisive effect in fostering peace among peoples and overcoming the stillexisting divisions between 'zones and worlds", he goes on.
World Peace Day, established by the Catholic church 25 years ago, is celebrated in most countries on January 5 but in England and Wales on February 2. It has become traditional for the Pontiff to publish a message on the theme of peace to mark the occasion.
A quarter of a century on from the first papal peace message it seems natural, says John Paul, to look back over the period as a whole, "to determine if the cause of peace in the world has actually made progress or not, and if the tragic events of recent months some of which are regrettably still going on have marked a substantial setback, revealing how real is the danger that human reason can allow itself to be dominated by destructive selfinterest or inveterate hatred".
Everyone has a duty to promote peace, says John Paul, but believers are particularly called to work for it. "Bearing witness to peace and working and praying for peace are a normal part of good religious behaviour," he says.
Recalling the meeting of the world's religious leaders in Assisi in 1986, the Pope asks that the spirit of that time should be rekindled today. The journey begun there must continue, he says.
Prayer is par excellence the power needed to promote peace in the world, but prayer is not enough: concrete actions are called for, in particular the task of working with other believers to bring about peace, he says.
But there is still far to go to reach the goal of active cooperation with other faiths for peace. Three paths towards that goal are identified: the path of mutual knowledge, the path of generous forgiveness, and the path of daily co-existence.
"Inter-religious contacts, together with ecumenical dialogue, now seem to be obligatory paths, in order to ensure that the many painful wounds inflicted over the course of centuries will not be repeated, and indeed that any wounds still remaining will soon be healed," says the pontiff.
But he issues a warning, too, against fundamentalism. "It would be a mistake if religions or groups of their followers, in the interpretation and practice of their respective beliefs, were to fall into forms of fundamentalism and fanaticism, justifying struggles and conflicts with others by adducing religious motives," he says.
The Pope calls on the leaders of nations to respect the religious conscience of every man and woman and to strive to prevent war and conflict. Heads of governments should show the greatest respect for the religious conscience of every man and woman and for the special contribution of religion to the progress of civilisation and to the development of peoples". And there is a note of praise, too, for international leaders: "the progress already made in the reduction of arms is worthy of praise," says John Paul.
* The Pope has said that "a prayer, a shout to the Prince of Peace" is needed to end the sixmonth long civil war in Yugoslavia.
"Nothing can be obtained with violence. But everything can be obtained with peace," the Pope said.
And he asked "Jesus, the Prince of Peace, illuminate our hearts and minds and activities" in the search for ways to end the internecine conflict.
"We suffer together with our brothers on the other side of the Adriatic, without excluding anyone Croats, Serbs and Slovenes," the Pope said.
The Pope's remarks came as European Community leaders attempted to find a common policy on the difficult question of recognition for Yugoslavia's self proclaimed independent republics.