by Annalise Deal
In the face of recent ISIS attacks, former president of Israel Shimon Peres is suggesting an Organization of United Religions to counter growing religious extremism and terrorism. Peres met in early September with Pope Francis to discuss the potential organization, though the Pope has yet to make a formal commitment to its creation.
In an interview with Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana, Peres stated that he believes the organization would be “the best way to contrast with terrorists who kill in the name of their faith.”
The organization would mirror others that seek to promote international peace, such as the United Nations, but would be based on the concept of using religion for good. Unlike the United Nations, the group would likely be a coalition of major non-extremist religious organizations, rather than allied nations.
Religious leaders have not reported any intention of military or political action to bring peace, but rather work to improve the image of religion worldwide, and promote it as a force for good. They seek to prove that faith is something that can be used to promote peace rather than aggression.
According to Peres the purpose of the group would be to “state in the name of all faiths that slaughtering people, and committing mass killings, has nothing to do with religion.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that Peres went directly to the Pope for support of his idea because he believes that Pope Francis is “the only world figure respected enough to bring an end to wars raging in the Middle East and elsewhere.”
Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, reported that Pope Francis told Peres in their meeting that there are already “Holy See branches” working towards this goal, including the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. However, the Pope has yet to make a commitment to the cause of interreligious dialogue.
It is suspected that his hesitation is due to not wanting to become involved in what is an increasingly messy scene in Gaza, Syria and elsewhere. However, it should also be noted that the Pope’s 45 minute conversation with Peres was unusually long, signifying his deep respect for the former leader of the Jewish State.
His conversation with Peres was the Pope’s third significant meeting with a major religious figure in the last four months. In late May, the two also met for a prayer meeting with Muslim leader Mahmoud Abbas. Additionally, the Pope met for 30 minutes with Jordanian Prince El-Hassan bin Talal, who sponsors the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies.
Though no formal organization has been created, it is clear that various religious leaders throughout the Middle East are engaged in conversation about ways to partner together peacefully, in hopes of bringing an end to aggression which some seek to justify through religion.